Monday, December 29, 2014

Sermon on Luke 2:22-40, for the 1st Sunday after Christmas, "Waiting for the Lord"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. I hope everyone had a blessed celebration of Christmas, and that you remembered to keep “Christ” in Christmas amidst all the distractions and activities. For families with kids, the waiting is over. Presents have been opened, Christmas plays have been acted out, the stashes of cookies and chocolates have been raided. For all Christians who have kept the season of Advent, the waiting is over, Christmas has come and probably most of the hectic preparations are done, and our carols have been sung (but we’re not quite done yet! Remember there are 12 days from Christmas till Epiphany!). The waiting for Christmas may be over, but we’re not quite done with waiting, are we? Human life is filled with waiting—and there always seems to be something new to wait for. For Christians, the wait goes on for Jesus’ final return. We still wait for Jesus to come in His kingdom, power, and glory. But how do we wait, and what do we do while we’re waiting?
A popular Dr. Seuss book describes how the exciting journeys of life sometimes get sidetracked to a “most useless place: The Waiting Place…for people just waiting. Waiting for a train to go or a bus to come, or a plane to go,” and…you get the idea. He hopes the reader will escape this dull situation of life, where we are just waiting around and staying, and doing nothing. He hopes they’ll get back to living and to doing. But this is not the way that Christian waiting should look either. For us, waiting for Jesus’ second coming shouldn’t be a matter of twiddling our thumbs and doing nothing—but a life filled with holy activity. What that holy activity will look like for each Christian varies by the vocations that God has given them. A month or so ago we were warned against laziness while waiting for the master’s return, when we saw the example of the wicked servant who buried the one talent his master had given him. The two other faithful servants put those talents the master had entrusted to them to useful and productive purposes. Truly, the Christian life involves a lot of waiting, but that’s no excuse for our time to be spent in idleness and laziness. God has a calling for each of us to live out, and our lives should be lives of fruitful service to God and our neighbor in love.
In our reading from the Gospel of Luke, Simeon and Anna were waiting. They were residents of Jerusalem, and both had been waiting a long time and were very old. Simeon had been waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” Consolation means comfort, and what Simeon was probably waiting for was the answer to the prophecy in Isaiah 40:1-2Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” He also had a personal revelation from the Holy Spirit that he was waiting for: that he would see “the Lord’s Christ” before he died. He wasn’t ready to die till God showed him His salvation. We don’t know what Simeon did while he waited, but we know that he waited in hope and expectation—and that at the calling of the Holy Spirit, he came to the Temple for the fulfillment of his promises. He came to find the consolation of Israel, the Lord’s Christ, and God’s salvation, wrapped up in the tiny package of a baby boy still cradled in mother Mary’s arms. The baby Jesus. Hope marked Simeon’s waiting, and when the waiting was over, his thanksgiving spilled over into praise to God: blessing God for what he had seen, and declaring that his life was now full, and he could die in peace.
Do we wait with hope and expectation, so that we can see God’s promises, and die in peace? Hope comes from knowing the promise, and believing it confidently. For us the promise is that Jesus, the Savior, will return one day, to judge the living and the dead. The promise that while He has gone into heaven to prepare a place for us, He will return one day to bring us where He is. The promise of everlasting life. But while we’re waiting, we don’t have these things in full measure. We do, however, have some great previews and foretastes. We live already with consolation, the comfort of God’s forgiveness. Hearts are set at peace with God when we repent of sin and trust in Jesus to forgive it through His redeeming death. We already begin to experience this peace now. Also, with each celebration of the Lord’s Supper we proclaim that we are waiting—we “proclaim His death until He comes”. We receive Jesus’ body and blood for our forgiveness, and when we go from the table, we sing Simeon’s blessing, saying, “Lord, now let your servant go in peace, according to your word. My own eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of every people…” God’s salvation has come direct to us, as to Simeon, and we’ve seen it with eyes of faith.
What do we need then, to die a blessed, a peaceful death, like Simeon? We need the Lord’s dismissal—His call that our life is now done—and we can go in peace according to His Word. His Word brings us peace; it declares to us the good news of sins forgiven, of God and sinners reconciled. To go in peace, we need to see the Lord’s salvation. Not seeing a photo, or a video, or even a vision, but seeing Him by faith. Hearing the Word of Christ by faith, so we believe in Jesus. The way to die in peace isn’t by ensuring a quick and painless death—which is not ours to control—but by facing our death, however it comes, by facing our Lord Jesus in faith. With eyes focused on Jesus, we can die in peace. He makes us ready, by taking away the fear of death, because He has promised us what is to follow. And we can pray, as Luther explained in the Lord’s Prayer, that God would deliver us from evil—including delivering us from an evil death; but give us a blessed end. Scripture promises, that even if suffering should be our lot, that it will seem light and momentary in comparison to the eternal weight of glory that God has in store for us. The Christian who dies secure in God’s hands, dies in peace, and rests in hope.
Anna is the other “waiter” or “waitress” in our Gospel reading. Actually, she was a “prophetess”, who spoke the word of the Lord. She was among a notable group of women throughout the Bible who had that particular gift. Her waiting was also not in idleness, but in eager expectation. Her waiting revolved around the worship life of the Temple, the House of the Lord. She had the trial of losing her husband only seven years into their marriage. The rest of her long life, till age 84, she spent faithfully worshipping at the Temple with prayer and fasting. What was she waiting for? She and other inhabitants of Jerusalem were waiting for the “redemption of Jerusalem.” Redemption means to “buy back” or deliver. There are many passages in the Bible that promise God’s redemption or deliverance.
One of them is Isaiah 59:20, “And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.” Redemption is God’s rescue for those who turn from their sins. And Jesus is that Redeemer who bought us back from sin by the costly price of His own blood, shed on the cross for us. This was what kept faithful Anna waiting, and the holy activity that kept her busy each day was worshipping with prayer and fasting. Her whole attention was turned to God. And her prayers were answered, when she too saw the baby Jesus, and her long wait for the redemption of Jerusalem was over. Her busy activity of worship turned into an eager day of thanking God and spreading the word to others about whom she had seen.
What sort of “holy activity” should occupy our Christian waiting? Our waiting for the Lord, or waiting for redemption? Worshipping by prayer and fasting, like Anna, is certainly good, right, and “salutary”—that is, good for our spiritual health. Worship includes being in God’s presence, receiving His gifts, answering back to Him in thanksgiving and praise. Fasting is a useful spiritual discipline of refraining from eating to devote that time to prayer and reflection on God’s Word. It’s a way of keeping ourselves from becoming so full and satisfied with the material world, that we forget the things spiritual. It’s a way of renewing our focus on God. Prayer should be like breathing for the Christian. We breathe in God’s Word, and breathe out prayers and thanksgiving and praise. We lift up our needs, our worries, and troubles before God, at His bidding and invitation. Worship is the starting point for our Christian life, because its where Jesus delivers His grace to us—the grace of God that was upon Him, that He gives us by faith. Worship is where God serves us so we can go out into life and serve our neighbor. It’s also where we double back in repentance when we’ve failed, turning back to God for redemption.
The rest of our Christian activity while we are waiting for the Lord to return, is defined by our individual vocations. Our callings in life. Mary and Joseph were parents, with a calling to raise a son. They returned from worship in the Temple to a life of carpentry and parenting a child. Parents here in worship, at the Lord’s house, return to your weekly vocations of raising your child in the fear and instruction of the Lord. You return to the jobs and responsibilities you’ve been given. Children, you return to your vocations of studying, learning, obeying your parents. Singles and everyone else, likewise return to your jobs and responsibilities. Retired or working, healthy or frail, old or young, we all have many God-given callings. Talk to your pastor or another mature Christian if you need help discovering them. Everyone has something to do—a place where you are needed, a purpose for which God has called you. Whether it’s as great as being a prayer warrior, or as small as running your business.
But Christian activity isn’t busy-ness for activities’ sake. We’ve not succeeded in God’s purpose for our life if we’ve just filled our calendar to overflowing. One can easily reach the point where activity crowds out worship and prayerful waiting. No, the waiting that marks the Christian’s life is distinctly Christ-focused. It’s a joyful and hopeful waiting, that looks for Jesus. A waiting accompanied by meaningful activity, and sees a purpose and a reason for sharing a cup of cold water with a child in Christ’s name, or caring for the needy; or that sees a purpose in spending time with and caring for the family Christ has given you—both your natural family, and your family of brothers and sisters in Christ. In other words, our waiting and our activity are brought together in faith. Whatever we do, we do for God and for the good of our neighbor. Whoever the neighbors are that God has placed in our life. And what makes this “activity” holy, is not that it’s all performed at church, but that it’s done in faith.
And all of our patient waiting has a meaningful end. Waiting for the Lord in hope and faith has a sure reward. As Hebrews 9:28 tells us: “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” Christ came first to deal with sin, to bear our sin to His cross. But when He comes a second time, it will be to save those who eagerly wait for Him. The time for peaceful departures in death will be over, and the time for our peaceful and joyful arrival into heaven will have come. And to His faithful servants, the Lord will answer, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your master!” In the Master’s name, Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Why was it essential that Jesus fully keep the Law, even from birth? Gal. 4:4-5; Heb. 4:15. What laws of God did Mary and Joseph keep for Him after birth? Genesis 17:9-14; Exodus 13:1-15; Leviticus 12:1-8. How did each law hint at Jesus’ future death?
  2. What was Simeon waiting for at the Temple? Luke 2:25-26. What was Anna (and were others) waiting for? Luke 2:38. How would you describe the way they lived their lives while they waited? Simeon called Jesus “your salvation”, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”, the “glory for your people Israel”, and that Jesus would be for the the “fall and rising of many” and “a sign that is opposed.” What do each of these titles and descriptions tell us about who Jesus was and what He would do?
  3. What brings you here to worship at the Lord’s House? To gather among His people? What are we waiting for? John 14:3; Heb. 9:28-29; Luke 21:27-28; also Rom. 8:23; Eph. 4:30; Rom. 13:11.
  4. What did Simeon warn Mary would happen when Jesus was an adult? Luke 2:34-35. What events did this point to? How was Jesus prophesied to be a “stone of stumbling”? What does that mean? Isaiah 8:14-15. How do we become those built on the Rock, rather than those who stumble and are broken on it? 1 Peter 2:6-10.
  5. In addition to Anna, who are some other examples of prophetesses in the Bible? Exodus 15:20-21; Judges 5; 2 Kings 22; Acts 21:8-9. What is the most important work of any prophet? Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:10-11.
  6. Mary and Joseph marveled at what was said about Jesus. Even as a child, Jesus amazed. Name several amazing things or miracles that surround who Jesus is and what He did.
  7. How can we face our death, our departure, in peace? Luke 2:29-30; 2 Tim. 4:18; Rev. 14:13; 21:4

Christmas Meditation on the birth of Jesus, 2014

            May the peace of Christ be with you! Another Christmas carol I love, we sang last night: Of the Father’s Love Begotten. The second verse opens: “Oh, that birth forever blessed, when the Virgin full of grace, by the Holy Ghost conceiving, bore the Savior of our race.” Truly there is no other birth in human history that is more blessed and more celebrated than the birth of Jesus Christ, our Savior. Great men and women through history have had their birthday’s celebrated and remembered locally, nationally, or even internationally for certain periods of time. But none has had even remotely the universal impact and recognition throughout 2,000 years of history, as Jesus Christ. All other notable leaders and their birthdays have ultimately passed into the recesses of our memory, and their names eventually disappear from the calendars. None have had the influence that Jesus had.
            A few weeks ago I shared a quote in a sermon, from Philip Schaff, a historian, which I’ll repeat here:
Jesus of Nazareth, without money and arms, conquered more millions than Alexander the Great, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon; without science and learning, he shed more light on things human and divine than all philosophers and scholars combined; without the eloquence of school, he spoke such words of life as were never spoken before or since, and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet; without writing a single line, he set more pens in motion, and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions, learned volumes, works of art, and songs of praise than the whole army of great men of ancient and modern times.
It’s just a small attempt to describe Jesus’ influence on science, learning, philosophy, faith, poetry, literature, speech, art, and music. But Jesus’ and His birth is loved and celebrated for so much more than this. He is not a great cultural or historical icon that is dead—but He is the Living Lord and Savior of all. As the only One to conquer death, He still lives and reigns to all eternity. And His greatest influence and impact must be measured not in culture or history, but in His redeeming work—rescuing us from our sin, and changing our human hearts.
His humble birth, attended by animals and set in a peasant environment, showed that His glory would not be through earthly things, but the glory, as the angel said, would be to God in the Highest, and peace and goodwill to men on earth. Jesus was sent to earth to do a heavenly work—a work of Divine Love—that would not be understood or received by those who first saw it. He came to proclaim the kingdom of God, and was largely rejected. Those who would find the peace and goodwill that He proclaimed, found it through humbling themselves by repentance, and receiving the forgiveness of sins that Jesus proclaimed.
And our next hymn, What Child is This? tells the purpose for which He came into the world: “nails, spear shall pierce Him through; the cross be born for me for you. Hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the Son of Mary.” The baby who was born would be the Savior who died on the cross, fulfilling His mission to mankind that began on Christmas. The manger, the cross, and the empty tomb are inseparably tied together, as the places through which Jesus journeyed to accomplish our salvation. From manger to cross the journey was in humility and suffering, lowliness, rejection, and sorrow. But from the empty tomb to the glory of heaven, His journey continues in glory, honor, and power. But from start to finish, behind the scenes, heaven saw and worshipped His glory. And that heavenly worship spilled out and over onto earth in the song of the angels at His birth. The beauty of the story was always apparent to heaven, but the proclaiming of the message to earth is how we discover the beauty of the story as well.
And the story of Jesus’ birth, is not just a beautiful “myth”—but it is Truth. Whether you look at the fact that Jesus was a real historical person, who birth dated to the reign of Caesar Augustus, while Quirinius was governor of Syria, or whether you look at the fact that Jesus came into the world to bear witness to the truth and tell us the true meaning of life—He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His whole purpose is bound up in bringing us back to God. If you are still a doubter or a skeptic, or if you are still lost, then receive this Good News today—Jesus Christ is born, a Savior! A Savior for you and I! And His story is not one that grows old with the retelling—it is a joy every time we rediscover it.
Even though Christmas is surrounded by so many other competing traditions, additions, and distractions—the True Story of Christmas is always here for us in God’s Word—to go back to, to peel back the accumulated layers, and discover the simple, beautiful jewel of Truth. The most blessed birth of all time, is the humble birth of our Savior Jesus, sent to save the world from sin. His Life, He lives for you! Rejoice and delight in the Light of His coming! Amen.

Sermon on 1 John 4:7-16 & Matthew 1:18-25, for Christmas Eve, "The Place for Love"

In the Name of the Father, who sent His Son to be the Savior of the world, and the Holy Spirit, in whom we abide in God’s Love, Amen. “Nesting” is a popular term nowadays, for the way that a young couple prepares their home, especially for their first child. Getting the nursery ready, decorating it, having baby showers, etc. It’s a way of preparing a place for the expected child, and a great deal of time and love often goes into those preparations. It’s at least one way of dealing with the long wait till childbirth.
We don’t actually know how long Joseph and Mary spent in Bethlehem before Jesus was born—Luke simply tells us “while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” This may run against popular notions of Mary going into labor in the moments of their arrival, followed by a frantic search for accommodations. “While they were there, the time came…” could mean a day, a week, or more. But that’s not so important, which is why those details are not included. But we do know the circumstances—He was born and laid in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, because there was no place for them in the inn. Whatever time Mary and Joseph had, the best “nesting” they had for baby Jesus was a humble feeding trough for animals.
That detail matters, because it shows the humble birth of the Son of God, when He came to earth. The Holy Family did not have any of our modern baby “essentials”, but the simple basics of swaddling clothes, warmth, and love that a peasant family could offer. Certainly nothing that met the standards of any other royal birth in the ancient world. But it was not for lack of love that His birth was simple—it was rather that God chose a peasant couple to welcome His Son into the world. The Kingship of Jesus was all but hidden, except to a handful of blessed recipients of the good news—Joseph and Mary; the shepherds, then the friends and family they told; and later on, the Wise Men. His humble birth also shows us, as our hymn says, that worldly honor, wealth, and might are weak and worthless in God’s sight. His glory would not be seen through these earthly things, but by the heavenly virtues of humility, compassion, and self-sacrifice.
Even before Mary and Joseph knew the part they would play in this Divine Drama, God’s love was making its place among them. When Jesus came into the world—when the Virgin Mary conceived—Joseph saw it as a potential scandal—but God revealed to him that Mary was innocent, and faithful to both God and him. God had to keep Joseph from abandoning the mother of God’s own Son. They would still need Joseph’s earthly care and protection, as he would adopt the baby Jesus to raise as his own. As we heard this past Sunday, God’s love made a place for Jesus in the virgin womb of Mary, without the help of man. Mary had to be prepared for this highly unexpected course of events that would forever change her life. Both she and Joseph received God’s preparations in their hearts, and made room for the Savior to enter in.
And just as God prepared a place for the humble birth and peasant childhood of Jesus, so also God works to prepare our hearts for His love, by breaking into hearts locked and sealed by sin. To precarious and uncertain situations, much like those of Joseph and Mary, or to hearts broken and corrupted by sin, Jesus comes to prepare a place for love. During the season of Advent we have been preparing our hearts for His coming, and now we celebrate that He is here! We come from all sorts of situations, all different states of readiness or unreadiness. But we pray tonight, “Ah dearest Jesus, holy child, prepare a bed, soft, undefiled, a quiet chamber set apart, for you to dwell within my heart.” We pray to Jesus that He would purify and make ready our heart—to be a place for Him to dwell.
Are our hearts locked against God’s love? Or maybe even superficially welcoming, but inwardly unready? Or are they empty, in need of His love and presence? Anything from loneliness to stubbornness, anger, grief, suspicions, doubts, or despair may afflict our hearts. This Christmas we may carry any of these things as locks, obstacles, burdens, or even voids within our hearts. But the Christ child is coming to enter in, and make a place for His love. God is able to create the very objects whom He loves.
What do we think of love? Perhaps when we think of love, we think of beauty or good qualities in a person attracting us, creating strong emotions, and then we “fall in love.” Was that how God came to love us? Or how we came to love God? Isaiah 53:2-3 tells us about the promised Messiah: “2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Now this passage tells us many things, and it is most importantly connected to Jesus’ crucifixion. But notice that it tells us that it was not earthly qualities, of form, majesty, or beauty that drew anyone to Him. Rather He was despised, rejected, a man of sorrows and grief, one that we did not esteem. We did not seek Him, but He sought us. The passage makes no mention of love, but it is dramatically evident that love drove Jesus to His unprecedented self-sacrifice. Our reading from 1 John 4 tells us “This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the propitiation for our sins.” That means that Jesus’ sacrifice was the turning point for God’s wrath against sin to be stilled, that He might show us His gracious face. All of Isaiah 53 echoes this—that Jesus would bear our sin, that we could be accounted righteous.
As Jesus bears our sin, takes away our guilt and shame of sin, He creates a people to love, and who love Him. He teaches our hearts to love by dwelling there, by repairing the daily damage done by sin, as we daily return to Him in our baptisms, by repentance and receiving His forgiveness. He opens our hearts and eyes to have compassion, to see people and places that need love, that need Jesus’ presence, that need His forgiveness. We see wounded and broken lives that need God’s mending, or stubborn and hardened lives that need God’s Word to soften and enter in. We see the poverty of our own hearts, and beg for Him to pour into us the riches of His love, to overflow for others. Our reading from 1 John tells us that God’s love for us turns into our love for Him, which in turn becomes our love for our neighbor.
So when the newborn baby was given the name “Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins”—His job description was already carved out for Him. And not by over-eager earthly parents who wanted to live vicariously through their child, but from Our Heavenly Father who sent His Eternal Son. The Son who exists with Him and the Holy Spirit from all eternity, who had a plan of redemption marked out from before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20). Jesus wasn’t living out someone else’s dream, but He lived, taught, suffered, died, and rose according to the eternal plan of the Triune God. God acted in concert to bring His love into play in a world that had dashed itself and continues to dash itself into pieces by sin. And yet God endeavors constantly to pick up the broken pieces of our lives and heal us by repentance and the forgiveness of sins. And to do that for our sinful hearts, is a God-sized challenge. But this is just what He does, as He opens hearts to hear His Word. And sadly, many will choose to harden their hearts against it instead. God spends a great deal of time and love on preparing our hearts—even with tough love, when necessary.
But God is continually glorified through the work of Jesus Christ His Son, who offered Himself to make sinners righteous before God. He is glorified as His kingdom expands through the Word of God and the work of Jesus Christ. The place that God’s love occupies in the world may have seemed small and precarious at first—riding on the survival of the Holy Family living in threatening times, and guarding the infant Jesus. But ever since that Holy Seed was first planted, the kingdom of God continues to grow and expand daily through every believer’s heart, by the cleansing and renewal of Jesus’ sacrifice for sinners. And the kingdom of God is unshakeable, it will never be removed, and it will never fall. Every heart where God’s Word is received, is a new place for God’s love to dwell by Christ Jesus. And one day, when He returns in His full kingly glory, He will rule the whole of creation. God’s love will occupy the whole of the new creation—the new heavens and earth. That darkness, sin, death, doubt, and the power of the devil must all finally give way to the Light—we rejoice. We rejoice that God’s love has opened the way in our hearts, and we rejoice and sing this Christmas that Christ Jesus’ love would grow and take root in every heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sermon on Luke 1:26-38, for the 4th Sunday in Advent, "King of the House of Jacob"

In the Name of Him who strengthens us according to the Gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, Amen. As we are ever so close to Christmas, the miracles surrounding Jesus’ birth jump out at us from the text. The unexpected visit of the angel Gabriel, to the Virgin Mary; his announcement of her conception of the Holy Child, Jesus, the Very Son of God; this child’s coming eternal kingdom. It was a troubling greeting for Mary—trying to sort out why she, a lowly maiden, would receive such a visit from an angel. But as Gabriel assured her of God’s favor, it became clear that the joy and honor to give birth to the Savior would be hers. She would fulfill the centuries old prophecy, that a virgin would conceive and give birth to a Son—Emmanuel, God with us.
It’s all plainly miraculous and wonderful—but how all this would happen is simply explained: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” No further explanation needed. The same God that called all reality into existence and called out into the darkness: “Let there be Light!”, spoke to the Virgin Mary. The Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadow her, and she would conceive and give birth to a Son, Jesus. Without man’s help, Jesus would be born of God. And just as Jesus’ miraculous birth come about without man’s help—so also Jesus’ kingdom would be established by the hand of God.
The theme of a kingdom and of a “house” connects our Gospel and Old Testament readings. King David had wanted to build a glorious house where God could be worshipped. But God told David instead that He would build a house for him. But now the meaning of “house” is not about a building, but a dynasty—the royal family line of the house of David. God’s amazing promise and prophecy given to David, some 3,000 years ago, was: “The Lord will make you a house…and your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” How that promise of a forever-house, a forever-kingdom, would be fulfilled, lay shrouded in mystery for long ages, but slowly was unfolded through the writings of the prophets, and became fully known in the birth and the lifetime of Jesus Christ, God’s Son.
So from this royal family line, the house of David, we’re introduced to Mary and Joseph. They were ancestors of the great King David, but lived a thousand years later—when the monarchy was long gone, and the wicked King Herod and the cruel Romans ruled over Israel. No descendant of David on the throne, and the prospects of God’s promise to David being kept, must have seemed distant and uncertain. Surely the thought of her son being a king was from Mary’s mind. Even further, the idea that her Son would be the One to establish an everlasting dynasty, and that Jesus would be given the throne of His father David, and reign over the house of Jacob forever. But like her miraculous conception, this kingdom too would not come about by human power, but by the will of God. What is impossible for man, is possible for God.
The Old Testament speaks of the reign of the Messiah as universal. In a world of approximately 200 sovereign nations, often at war or in conflict with one another, the thought of one Sovereign ruler may seem incredible. Sounds like something that could only be accomplished through great bloodshed or force or tyranny. The nations would not willingly submit to any one ruler. But the Scriptures give us the extraordinary claim that there already is, in fact, One Sovereign Lord of all; Jesus Christ. He is the One who would be given the throne of His father David. But not a kingdom bounded by the national borders of Israel, but reaching all across the earth. Jesus’ kingdom is already expanding through every nation on earth, amidst sword, persecutions, and resistance—but it grows by the power of God’s Word and Spirit transforming hearts. He acquired this kingdom, not by military might, by earthly strategy, nor by forced conversions or threat of death—but by the liberating of captives from the enemy; by the freeing Word of the Son of God. The blood that was shed to acquire His kingdom, was His own blood, shed on the cross, for the forgiveness of our sins. He defeated the powers that stood in His way—sin, death, and the devil—by triumphing over them in His cross and resurrection. And His rule is of justice and righteousness.
His kingdom comes, His will is done, on earth as it is in heaven. He is no mere mortal to reign for 50, 60, or even 100 hundred years. But He is the Son of the Most High, who rules in heaven above and on earth below. His is an everlasting kingdom. In a democracy, with term limits, we have little concept of a single ruler reigning forever. The thought may even frighten us who are used to sinful leaders, and that even the best of mankind’s leaders are far from perfect. But Jesus is the eternally righteous and just God, and “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). Our life here on earth, as Christian members of His kingdom, is but the opening chapter of an eternal story, with God’s eternal and peaceful reign.
When Jesus returns to earth in power and great glory, all resistance will finally fail and fall into eternal submission, as every knee bows and tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord. This is the picture of the reign of Jesus, over the house of Jacob. It’s a lot to process, but this was what God was revealing to the Virgin Mary when she first received that unexpected announcement. To think that the child she would bear was holy—the Son of God. That she would live and worship under the reign of her great Son.
Later in Luke’s Gospel, when Jesus was an adult, in His teaching ministry, some unnamed woman reflected on the great honor given to Mary, and shouted out in a crowd. “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” But He said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:27-28). The woman praised Jesus’ mother, and considered it an unsurpassed blessing to have given birth to and raised Jesus. Jesus, without diminishing His mother’s honor, announced an even greater honor—to hear the Word of God and keep it! In fact, that was the same reason Mary was so highly blessed, as she too said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word!”  She heard the Word of the Lord, and she kept it. She willingly received the unprecedented honor of bearing the Savior, Jesus.
Hers was not just a once in a lifetime honor—but once in all time—once in all human history honor—to be the mother of Jesus, the Son of the Most High; Son of God. No other woman will ever share in that honor. But the greater blessing and honor in which we all can share is to hear the Word of God and keep it. We now live under the kingdom of Jesus Christ, under His good and righteous rule. As Christians we have been liberated by the Word of God from our slavery to sin, death, and the power of the devil. Jesus’ Word has spoken us free, and we have believed it. We are now members of the “house of Jacob”—extended family, as God’s grace has extended beyond His people Israel, to welcome people of every tribe, language, people and nation on earth. God’s promise to King David of an everlasting house and kingdom has come true, and the gracious reign of Jesus has reached our hearts as well. So we can say with Mary: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.
Being a servant of the Lord, a subject of Jesus’ kingdom, or a member of this household of faith, are all different ways of talking about being a disciple, a believer, in Jesus. Just like for Mary, this high calling from God’s Word comes with its own set of crosses. The peacefulness of Jesus’ reign will not be completely established until death, the final enemy, is destroyed and made subject to Jesus. Until then, we still experience trouble, antagonism, resistance to the kingdom of Jesus. Many simply dismiss the miraculous events of Jesus’ birth and life, and choose to have nothing to do with Jesus or God. At a minimal level they may just laugh and mock—but in many places around the world, their opposition turns into full-fledged hatred and violence against Christians. It may seem impossible that such enemies of Jesus’ kingdom could be won over. But our reading reminds us, that nothing is impossible with God. On another occasion, when Jesus talked about the difficulty of a rich man entering heaven, the disciples exclaimed: “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus echoed those words, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:26-27).
We may often forget that just as Jesus’ birth, and the establishment of His universal and eternal kingdom, cam about not through the help of man, but by God—so also the growth of His kingdom, by winning hearts and minds to Christ Jesus is also God’s work as well. We are messengers, bringing God’s Word to others—but it’s God’s power that converts and changes hearts. His Holy Spirit gives us faith and gives us the right to become children of God. And as children of God, Scripture tells us “we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope” (Hebrews 3:6). We live in this house by faith, and God lives with us. And this Christmas, we again declare that our confidence and the boast of our hope, is not the kingdoms of men, nor the power of men, nor the glory of men—but it is the eternal kingdom of Jesus, God’s own Son, the power of only wise God, and the glory of the Lord that is our confidence and hope. We welcome His reign among us, we confess His universal and eternal power, we pray and believe in His kingdom’s continual growth, and we ask that He would make us His willing servants according to His Word. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. Review the readings from 2 Samuel 7:1-16 and Luke 1:26-38, and take note of the various uses of the word “house”—to refer to David’s palace, the Temple David desires to build for God, the royal lineage of David that God promises to establish on the throne, through the Messiah, and how the Gospel reading in Luke ties Jesus to that lineage of David, and all the way back to Jacob. Who is now God’s “house?” Hebrews 3:6; 1 Peter 2:5. What does this metaphor tell us about our relationship to God?
  2. Being the mother of the One who would reestablish David’s throne might be considered great enough honor for Mary, but greater than just an earthly king, who would her Son be? Luke 1:31-33; 35. Later, when Jesus was an adult, a woman in a crowd declared Jesus’ mother to be greatly blessed for giving birth to and raising Him. Luke 11:27-28. What did Jesus respond was an even greater honor or blessing? How was Mary also blessed for this reason? Luke 1:38. Is the same blessing available to us? How so? How can you “hear the Word of God and keep it?”
  3. Even receiving this unique honor of bearing Jesus in her womb came with its own challenges for Mary. How might committing our life to the Lord’s service and His Word bring both challenges and blessings for you? What are some present challenges and blessings you face? What ways have you been called to be a servant of the Lord?
  4. Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus, her Son, would rule an eternal kingdom. How is this possible? Revelation 11:15; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Psalms 2 & 110. How does this fulfill OT prophecy? 2 Samuel 7:11, 16; Daniel 7:13-14; Obadiah 17-21.