Archive for December 10th, 2012

In Orthodox iconography, John the Forerunner is many times depicted with wings. Why? Angels have wings. Angels, in Greek, literally means “messenger”: they bring God’s Word to His people. So John was an angel. For many the message of God’s Word is received ,but others stop up their ears because they want to hold on to their sin, as did Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias. So many times John is shown with his head on a platter, see Mark 6: 14-29.

St Luke 3:  1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Many a student will complain that history is boring and so I began the sermon with a boring historical quote from Luke.  Yet, you and I do not find our histories boring and others who love us and we them.  So it goes that our histories, biographies, might be a snooze to someone else who does not care about us and us them. The history of God with us, Emmanuel is not boring because He cares and we care about Him and the kindness of the Lord is for all the families of the earth.  Luke is very careful in his history and gives the precise historical setting regarding John and Jesus.  These verses are included in the Bible so they are important. Why are they important? There are a couple levels of meaning and importance in these dark days.

  1.  First, the Lord God of Israel fully entered into human history to redeem us from our history in true repentance.  Real time, in the Roman Empire.  to call real sinners to real repentance and his utterly factual forgiveness:  being in a feeding trough and feeding us by His death on the Cross in His bodily  resurrection in the hope of the new heavens and earth.  This is why Luke is so exact  in his “orderly account” so we may know the certainty of things in which we have been catechized. His salvation did not occur in some ethereal other worldly space but in that time and that place at the crossroads of Palestine and the Roman Empire.  Religion occurred in the heads of a Joseph Smith and a Muhammed.  God’s Word happened, came to John at the headwaters of the Jordan in Judea.  In that ancient rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, ‘Judas’ sings:   Now why’d you choose such a backward time And such a strange land?  If you’d come today You could have reached the whole nation Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication. The lyricist Tim Rice knows little!   The Lord knew exactly what He was doing.  He seem to have chosen that time because the Roman Empire had conquered the then known world so that His Word could go forth from Zion as prophesied.  So that the nations could hear the Word of such a great salvation. Hear the good news of freedom from sin, death and the power of the devil, because the Lord made us for freedom.  So that His Word  would not be marketed like the latest flavor of Baskin and Robbins, but His Word go forth from mouth  to ear to heart and kill so to make us alive in Christ Jesus.
  2. Note that in Luke’s biography he tells the events of our salvation in the real time of Caesar, Pilate, Herod Antipas, that is the State.  Then he tells us that the high priest were Annas and Caiaphas, that is, if your will, the Church.  The second point: the Lord is God of Church and State.  Not Caesar, Pilate, nor Caiaphas…not the president nor a premier nor a dictator nor a king or a queen. The government was upon His shoulders.  The taxation of the State and it’s debt  was upon Jesus Christ.  But He has come for more than the debt owed from taxes but the debt of our sin.  He came to forgive our debt so we forgive our debtors in joyful repentance. He came that we bear fruit befitting repentance and His reign.  He calls us to repent, not to appease His wounded dignity, nor please us (definitely!) but to release us and free us from our bonds. The world and the State always desires to go it’s way and to become all encompassing, god-like.  The world and the state can be mighty impressive as was the Roman eagle and Empire.  In our day, many want to squeeze the Church and her message of repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ out of the public square.  I think manger scenes in city parks and the Ten Commandments in courthouses gets us off course. The real issue is much more troubling. No one wants to be called to accounts, say, on abortion and it’s pro-death policies; or on marriage and it’s sanctity between Husband and Wife.   I  read this past week that the birthrate is plummeting in America.  Do we really need to wonder why?  One solution put forth in the article:  more immigrants.  Of course it’s not the Lord’s imperative of life, be fruitful and multiply. When I was a pastor in the ELCA, I attended a conference on evangelism.  Since we do not have big families, we can no longer count on “bedroom evangelism”.  Make that the public square naked and if only the State and the individual are left, then the State will become god. Oh, but people say, you are imposing your morality on us! We are not but the Lord is! And that’s the point, the Law and morality is an imposition!  If the Church follows the world for prestige, power, authority, morals, it is has lost it’s saltiness, it’s salty difference and can not preach and teach the Word of God and knows her life is in His Word alone.  She can not tell sinners lost and lone in the grip of idolatry and immorality, the Savior has come.  John’s sermon is summed up in one word, repent.    
  3. Thirdly, the Word of the Lord came to John not in the great capitols of Church and State, Jerusalem and Rome,  but in the desert.  Not in the great civilizations of government and religion in the place where one can have only one trust, one faith in the one Lord.  The Lord saved His people through the desert, the wilderness after slavery in Egypt. When Israel went after false gods and immorality, the Lord reminded them that in the desert He literally wooed them. Isaiah said the Word would be heard again in wilderness, in the desert again, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, makes His paths straight, in other word straighten our lives out in repent.  Repentance in Greek means change of mind and yet it’s more that a change of mind alone but also of heart, soul.  Yet even more. Repentance is about the way of the Lord and His paths, it’s about our feet, the way in which we walk, the pilgrimage of His Church. There is the way of death and the way of life.  Choose life.

Israel’s only security was the Lord in spite of their protests. He fed them bread from heaven. Their shoes did not wear out.  The Lord led them by a pillar of fire in the night, a light shining in the darkness.  And well before the Exodus, Abraham had nothing save God’s Word to him, no country, no sanctuary, no books, nothing and he believed on account of His Word. 

After last Sunday’s liturgy and the introduction of our mission’s Christmas tree, Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree,  Pr. Carr said there some preaching in the notion of security blankets….what we hold on to for dear life and if we hold on to them more than the Lord who holds us in His hand, then we have a false god.  What is name of your security blankets? They can have many names:  popularity, sports, power, money, shoes, cars…you name it.   If I only have this, then I’ll be happy and happiness evaporates like the morning fog. I can’t hold on to the dearest souvenir of hell and enter the Kingdom.  And have you ever seen a security blanket after years of use?  It can become quite dirty.  John preached and they all came to him in the desert at the Jordan River:   the Jordan River, which Israel went through as it parted with the Ark of the Covenant:  Joshua 3:11: Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. The new ark was coming preached John, again in the desert. Jesus was baptized by John.  The people laid down their security blankets, washed away in repentance and thenwaiting for the baptism of the forgiveness of sins in the Holy Spirit for the New Ark of the Covenant, His body and Blood.  The Word of the Lord came to John in the desert.  John did not come to the Word, the Word sought John out even in the womb and called him.  The Lord in His Word has sought you out and found you and seeks you each and every day to prepare the Way of the Lord and makes His paths straight.  The joy of the Lord is so needed in these happy, slappy times.  His grace, mercy and peace is for you, as we turn toward Him day by day for His way through us to others in His Word.   In a Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus for the first time laid down his security blanket when he started preaching the written word, There were shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night…the Word did it and it has and still does for each and everyone of us.  Linus laid down his blanket at the foot of that frail tree.  Jesus is that frail tree and yet the mightiest oak ever by the Wood of the tree of the Cross:  in the towns and cities, we need to tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born.

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