Sermons, Uncategorized

A Gift for the King ~ Children’s Christmas Eve Service

Click here to listen to this sermon.standard-nativity

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

In the popular song, the little drummer boy tags along with the Magi to see Baby Jesus. Arriving at His house in Bethlehem, the Magi fall down in worship, offering Him fine gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. But the little drummer boy is sad because he has no gift to bring that’s fit to give the King.

So here we are this evening—in His house, bringing gifts for the King. So, what sorts of gifts have you brought Him? Did you, perhaps, dress up in your nicest clothes to honor Him? Dressing up for God’s house is a good and worthy practice, to be sure—a way of remembering whose presence you are entering. But I’m sure the shepherds were just as welcome when they arrived to meet Baby Jesus in their everyday work clothes.

How about offerings? Offerings are gifts, too. Offerings of money—that’s what we usually think of, but of course, there are other things. Time is a good gift. Money and time, elements of our very lives, gifts for our dear Lord. Our speaking and singing in the service, too—these are gifts we give to our Lord Jesus.

Most certainly, all these things are good things to do, good gifts for the King. But stop and think about these gifts. The truth is, what we can give the Lord is nothing that isn’t already His. “The cattle on a thousand are Mine,” He says. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all its fullness.” No matter what we give, all we’re doing is “re-gifting” back to the original Giver.

Gifts for the King. What can you bring?

Well, Jesus says, “as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to Me.” That’s something we can do, right? We can give money to charities to help the poor. And we can offer these gifts of mercy as our gifts to Jesus. Surely, He’ll be more pleased with these sorts of everyday “righteousness” sorts of gifts, right?

But if you are doing these things for Jesus, save your energy. Does He need any of this? No! And for that matter, are your righteous acts really all that shiny and special? That’s not to say you shouldn’t do these things. To love your neighbor as yourself and to show mercy for the one who has need—all these things are good and worthwhile, commanded and commended by God. Just remember, Jesus doesn’t need these things; it’s your neighbor who needs them.

Gifts for the King. What can you bring?

By now, it’s obvious that you and I, like the little drummer boy, “have no gift to bring that’s fit to give the King.” Nothing we can offer is anything but stained and corrupted by our own sin, through and through. And the one who tries to offer this King even the smallest act of “righteousness” as though it were righteous in itself, well, that would be like coming before the emperor and flinging garbage and filth on his feet and expecting him to be impressed by such a fine gift.

Gifts for the King. What can you bring?

How about your heart? To be sure, that is the gift you most ought to give to Him. But even here, “I have no gift to bring that’s fit to give the King.” You and I have a bad heart condition. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick,” says Jeremiah (17:9). Jesus goes into greater detail, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). Merry Christmas, Jesus! Here’s my heart! Some gift, huh?

Nevertheless, that is the gift you must give to Him. Not because it is good, but quite the opposite, because your heart, is bad, filthy with sin to the core.

Still, the very best gift to give to Jesus is your sin. For one thing, it’s the only thing you can give to Him that is truly yours, which was never His gift to you in the first place. And beyond that, this is most definitely “the gift that keeps on giving”—all your sin and sinfulness; all your thoughts, words, and deeds; all your not doing the good that you would do, doing the evil that you’d like not to do.

And along with all that sin and selfishness, and hurt and harm and hate against your neighbor (and his against you, too, for that matter), comes all those effects of sin—like sorrow and decay and pain and misery and failure and then… death. And then, Death again, forever. To be sure, in giving Jesus your sin, you’re not giving Him some prize, but you’re not giving Him some small trifle, either!

But this is precisely the gift that He came to receive from us—or better put, to take from us. Most certainly, Christmas is all about exchanging gifts—the Great Exchange. The gift you must give to Jesus is your sin, selfishness, and all that goes with it—even your death and hell which would separate you from God forever. And in joyful exchange for such a gift, Jesus gives you His righteousness, His perfect love, His eternal life, and His own status of beloved Son of the Father.

But how? How can you bring such a gift for the King? Can you find a box that you can put your sin and death into and gift wrap it? And where do you mail it to? How and where and when do you give Jesus your Christmas gift of sin?

One of the “Christmas specials” I like is a production of Lutheran Hour Ministries called “Red Boots for Christmas.” In the story, an angel comes to Hans the shoemaker, to tell him that he will receive a gift from God that Christmas. Hans, a grumpy guy, is shocked, and then considers what he ought to give God in return. As he wonders, he asks Gretchen, a poor, old lady who lives off the kindling and sticks she can gather, what she would give God for a Christmas gift. She replies, “I would give Him what I give Him every day: My sins for His pardon, my weakness for His strength, and my sorrow for His joy.”

In Baptism, you already gave your gift of sin to Jesus, and received the gift of His righteousness. Daily, through contrition and repentance, you give Jesus your own proper gift—sin, and, in return, receive His gift to you—forgiveness for all your sins. In this Great Exchange, you give Christ all that belongs to you, and come away with everything that belongs to the King.

So. Go ahead and give all those other gifts, according to the wisdom and love that God has given you—sing and dress up and give offerings and pray at church, and work hard to love those neighbors God has given you. But never stop giving Jesus the gift He came to receive from you—your sin, and never stop knowing that He has given you the greatest gift in exchange—His forgiveness, salvation, and life.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

This homily is adapted from a sermon by Rev. David R. Mueller.

Sermons, Uncategorized

Out of the Depths: Sermon for the Funeral of Dorothy Brockberg

Out of the DepthsClick here to listen to this sermon.“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” (Psalm 130).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Our text begins at the place where a man’s life is being overwhelmed, inundated, and flooded. We might imagine being in a small boat on a lake when high winds strike and the waves consume the craft in an instant. One minute you’re safe inside the boat, and the next moment you’re swept away.

While drowning is not a particularly pleasant death, it is generally quick. You don’t have a lot of time to ponder death. But imagine an overwhelming death that takes a long time, as your stranded boat floats nearly submerged over a period of years. The water up to your nose. There you are, right at death’s door, but never quite going through it. And while you wait, what do you say to God?

That’s what it must have been like for Dorothy in the last few years of her life. Only instead of it being water that rose to overwhelm her, it was Alzheimer’s. That dreadful disease took away her ability to do the things she enjoyed—serving people and volunteering. Eventually it took away even those basic things most of us take for granted—eating, drinking, walking, and even the ability to engage in conversation.  That was frustrating for everyone involved, I know, but it had to be especially frustrating for Dorothy because she lived with it all the time.

About two months ago when I visited Dorothy, she surprised me. I asked her if she would like me to read some Scripture. “Yes, I would,” she said. Somewhat shocked to find myself in a two-way conversation, I could only say, “Okay.” I would have to say that that’s the only time in the last few years that Dorothy ever had more words to say to me than I had to say to her.

Sometimes, Dorothy would join me in the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer—voicing some of the words and mouthing the rest. It still amazes me how often God can use His Word to give voice to a confession of faith in one who is usually silent. But even when she could not speak, Dorothy would blink her eyes and indicate she understood and believed. She would firmly hold my hand as we prayed, giving it an occasionally squeeze as if to say, “Thank you for saying the words to God I can’t say aloud myself.”

During my visits, I reminded Dorothy that, no matter what, she could always talk to God with the thoughts and prayers in her mind. I told her even when we didn’t know what was on her mind and heart, that the Lord heard her silent prayers and her cries for help. I reminded her how the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness and intercedes for us with groanings too deep for word. And I reminded her that the Lord loves her. He would never leave her nor forsake her. He had promised to be with her always, and the Lord always keeps His promises!

Trapped inside a failing body and mind, Dorothy Brockberg knew well what the psalmist meant: “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!”

But this psalm is not primarily about slowly drowning in the depths of a lake or even being overcome by the awful effects of a debilitating disease. The condition this psalm addresses is a spiritual one. It deals with a soul being overwhelmed with sin and the effects of sin. “If You, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Or in other words, “If You, O God, should keep a list of all the sins that are charged to me, how could I remain standing? If You marked off not only the sins I do, but also the things I don’t do that I should do… If You kept track, not only of the things I said that were sins, but also those times when You required me to speak and I kept quiet… If You marked the sins of my heart… O dear God, if You kept track of all these things, could I still stand?”

The answer is a firm, “No!” No one could stand. I couldn’t. You couldn’t. Dorothy couldn’t. Not one of us could stand in the Judgment by ourselves. We’re all sinners and deserve to be consumed, overwhelmed, and drowned in the depths of the eternal Lake of Fire. And that’s a whole lot worse than any physical affliction any of us will ever experience.

The psalmist points us to the only solution to our problem of sin, “But with You there is forgiveness.” Dear friends, Jesus, the Son of God, brings us that forgiveness. In love, He takes the guilt, the shame, and the punishment of all our sins to the cross. Jesus endures all the shame, pain, and grief that others have laid on us. There, on the cross, Jesus pays the eternal price for all our sin as the wrath of God is released upon Him instead of on you and me.

The shed blood of God’s Son cries out for our pardon, and we hear His Word from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” The broken body of Christ hangs on the cross, and out of the depths of hell He says, “I thirst.” Denied and crucified by man, assaulted and tortured by the forces of evil, and abandoned by the Father, Jesus cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Out of the depths, Jesus cried, and His question was answered with only silence from God. That, dear friends, is what our sins cost Him. That is what our salvation is worth to Him. This is Jesus, “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). What a blessed privilege for us to confess with the psalmist, “But with You there is forgiveness.”

To those like Dorothy, and you, and I, who know the Savior, and who trust in Him, the message of forgiveness becomes ours through Baptism and the Word. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, we live in daily contrition and repentance. Invited to the Lord’s Table, we receive His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, to strengthen and preserve us in body and soul unto life everlasting. Having been forgiven our many sins, we forgive those who have sinned against us. Having been adopted as God’s dear children, heirs of His kingdom, we gratefully look for ways to serve our heavenly Father and His kingdom now. Trusting Jesus’ promise that He has gone to prepare a place for us, we patiently wait for our Lord to bring us home one future day.

For what seems to us to be a long time, with her body continuing to deteriorate, but with her soul healed and cleansed through Word and Sacrament, Dorothy waited for the Lord to bring her home. No doubt, it was not an easy wait. She waited like the psalmist “more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

Yes indeed, “more than watchmen wait for the morning,” Dorothy waited for the Lord to bring her home. And her loving Savior was by her side all the time. And then when it was just the right time, on Friday morning, Dorothy became the beneficiary of the same promise the repentant thief heard, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.”

The psalmist urges, “O Israel, put your hope in the Lord.” At all times, but especially at times such as this, the Christian’s hope is in God and in His Word. The Word of God’s promises in Christ are what will sustain us with the hope that does not disappoint. Though we mourn Dorothy’s passing from this earth and will miss her dearly in the days and years ahead, “we do not grieve as those who have no hope.” We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that for His sake, we will also have eternal life.

On the Last Day, the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, and Dorothy and all the dead in Christ, will rise, and we will be caught up together to be with the Lord forever. Then Dorothy will be able to say all those words she’s wanted to say to you during the past few years of silence. You’ll have eternity to catch up. And together Dorothy, you, I, and all believers in Christ will be able to give praise and glory to God forever. Amen.

Now may the peace of God that passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.