Dec 23, 2018 – Getting Ready
There’s a story circulated on Facebook that tells about a couple, Bob and Lynne who were moved by their pastor’s message to show Christian love to their neighbors. When they got home from church, they saw a moving van in front of the house across the street, so they decided to display their Christian love. Lynn quickly prepared some homemade bread and together they ventured across the street. When someone answered the front door, Lynn said, “Hi. We wanted to welcome you to our neighborhood. Here’s some bread for you.” The woman who answered the door said, “Thank you very much for your kindness. Uh, this is embarrassing. You see, we’re not moving in. We’re moving out. We’ve lived here 8 years.”
That story reminds me of advent. So often we think we’re preparing one thing, when it is something else altogether that we should be noticing. After all, preparation is what advent is all about for us as Christians.
We’re all getting ready. We’re getting ready for Someone we all know. Someone Who is ‘moving into the neighborhood’. Yes, we’re preparing for the celebration again of Jesus coming to the manger, but we also need to remember to prepare for His promised return. So we too, like Bob and Lynn, might think about how we want to prepare for His second coming. The question then becomes, am I doing those things I want to do to get ready for Jesus’ return?
That couple in our Facebook story were prepared and excited to share the love of God with their neighbors. I like to think that that still came across in some way. That’s because excitement for sharing the love of God is something that’s infectious. In a greater way that’s what we’ve seen in the scripture readings for today. God in scripture writes to us and shares His excitement about coming to us on earth.
Another thing about Facebook; I’ve been able to connect with old friends and one of those is a seminary classmate who taught Hebrew language studies but serves now as the president of Concordia University in Chicago. He’s also a retired rear admiral of the Navy reserve chaplain corps. On one post he mentioned today’s Old Testament lesson and pointed out something that only a lover of the Hebrew language would find.
My friend took note of something in verse 5a, which closes the reading from Micah that we all recognize as a prophecy concerning the promise of the coming Messiah, Jesus. Quoting my friend he writes that “the English, is usually translated ‘and he shall be their (or our) peace.’” He goes on to say, “However, this Messianic prophecy actually reads simply, ‘and this one shall be peace’. In other words, Jesus does not just give peace – He Himself IS peace….as in “The Prince of Peace”.” He concluded his post with, “See how cool Hebrew is?”
Like I said, he’s a lover of the Hebrew language, and a very perceptive and down-to-earth one, thank heaven. By pointing out that Jesus is peace, not simply the bringer or delivery person who comes with peace, we get a glimpse of God’s passion and why the Lord came to earth. It isn’t just that God is sending ‘good wishes’ or a nice thought that, ‘peace would be a good thing for us to consider’. No, God sends us peace, His peace. Jesus is peace for this world. That is what comes to us in the manger… the whole peace of God.
You know we use that phrase when we quote St Paul who says, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding…” Well knowing that Jesus is Peace helps us to ‘understand’ why what St. Paul says is so true. It’s so hard to truly grasp that God, in His desire to come to us, decided to send His Peace to us to fulfill our need for reconciliation with Him. But that is why God made all the preparations for Christ to come! And so by His preparations through many things, including the Old Testament prophets, God tells us that the One who is coming is Himself the peace that we need to have come to us and overcome the sin and strife of our lives and of the whole world. That’s what’s delivered to us in absolution and the sacraments; baptism or holy communion. We take into our very mouths the peace of God, and that indeed is beyond our understanding.
So God prepared us for the coming of Jesus; the coming of our peace. And as the time grew closer for Jesus’ arrival God revealed more of the preparations He’d done. And that included others who also became enthused about Jesus’ coming. They too shared God’s joy and excitement. And that takes us to the gospel lesson. Elizabeth and Mary shared in God’s preparations.
We read today that Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the child we know as John the Baptist; who also, became the one who prepared the way for Jesus earthly ministry among the Jews; Elizabeth his mother shared the joy of Mary’s participation in God’s preparations for Jesus’ arrival. Elizabeth rightly recognizes Mary as the mother of her Lord and she is also rightly humbled.
Listen again to what she says, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
In contrast to the pagans of the day, Mary is not turned into some type of goddess by Elizabeth because of how God has blessed her. What matters ultimately is not Mary’s womb but the Child that she bears. This is the joy that Elizabeth shares in. This Child is Whom God sent to be peace. And like Elizabeth we honor Mary and seek to emulate her faith and trust in God.
Mary received God’s plan for her to participate in the most unique way possible in the preparations for the coming of Jesus, by being the one who bears Him into the world, for the salvation of the world.
Christ came this first time through Mary, and look at the preparation that was done for him when He came then as God’s peace. And as God’s peace He won for the world, on the cross, the peace the world needed which came through His shed blood and resurrection. The peace that passes all understanding is ours this Christmas because of all that God had done to prepare the way for Him.
So as we worship the Christ Child, whose first coming to ‘our neighborhood’, God had prepared for, for so long, we also prepare for His second coming. God now is preparing for Jesus’ second coming by having us participate through preparing room for Him in our hearts. By seeking to follow Mary’s example of willing acceptance of God’s desire to rule in our hearts and lives – by the power of the Holy Spirit – we do as the Christmas carol says and, ‘prepare Him room’. And so we join in God’s preparations for Christ’s promised second coming.
Advent is about all of us being prepared for the renewal of our relationship with God through Christ. We join Elizabeth in her rejoicing over the Peace Who Mary has borne into this world, the first time He came. And we prepare for His return when the Peace of God, Jesus Christ, comes to take us to the home that He has prepared for us in heaven. Advent blessings to you, in Christ our peace, amen.
Sermon #993 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Micah 5:2-5a
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor bears a son, and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4 He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And he will be our peace…
Epistle Reading Hebrews 10:5-10
5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’”
8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Holy Gospel Luke 1:39-45
39 At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, 40 where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! 43 But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her!”