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Midweek Advent 1 2018

Midweek Advent 1

The Child Who Is Zechariah’s Hope

Isaiah 40:1–5; Luke 1:5–25

December 5, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Modified from material provided by CPH “What Child is This?”

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Midweek Advent 2 2018

Midweek Advent 2

The Child Who Is a Virgin’s Great Son

Judges 13:2–7; Luke 1:26–38

December 12, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Modified from material provided by CPH “What Child is This?”

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Advent 2 2018 - Populus Zion - Luke 21:25-26

Advent 2 2018

Luke 21:25-36

Your Redemption is Drawing Near

December 12, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

It’s getting closer. Christmas is almost here. It has been fun to have a child, as many parents experience, relive and remember some of the excitement of childhood. The anticipation of Christmas is one of those. Putting Christmas presents under the Christmas tree is almost torturous to a child. They can see it, but they can’t open it yet.  It teaches them patience, and it teaches parents patience as they have to keep telling their child “not yet.”

Advent season also teaches patience.  About ¾ of all Christian churches around the world observe the yearly pattern of the church year, and it’s for good reason. We take the time to prepare for our yearly celebration of the incarnation, of God who became a man, that we might wait with faith for the Lord’s coming.  It teaches us to slow down and wait for Christmas to arrive. The day is coming and there is still some preparation to do.  There are signs all around us that it is on the way.  The colder days, the longer nights, the Christmas plays, and the festive lights.

But there’s more to this time of the year than this. In our Gospel reading for today from Luke 21, Jesus tells us to stay awake, to be prepared, to look for the coming Christ.  That’s the real purpose of all these preparations to celebrate Christmas, we also prepare to celebrate His final coming.  These preparations are the same.  I’m not talking about the decorating, though for Christians, our decorations ought to serve the purpose of the season itself.  Advent wreaths, nativity scenes, Christmas trees, are all Christian symbols of the Gospel.  The real preparation is the decoration of the Christian heart and life through repentance and faith in Christ, through the eager anticipation of our redemption that is drawing near. We prepare for His coming not through what we do, but in receiving what He has done for us.

We can no longer make ready for the first Advent of Christ. He came in the flesh 2000 years ago. But our Lord’s first advent is also a foreshadowing of His constant coming to His Church even now through His Word and Sacraments. When we get together as we have today, here or anywhere else, where God’s people gather around the eternal Word of God, the time between the Lord’s days on earth and His return in glory are bridged. His Kingdom comes to us. His presence comes to us. His glory comes to us. His forgiveness comes to us. His life comes to us.  And they point us to a certain future.

And so Jesus speaks in Luke 21 of signs that will accompany His coming. When the world sees these disastrous things, they will be devasted. Jesus describes the end of this world, the world full of material and commercialized things, the end of houses and gadgets, of cities and nations, of bank accounts and retirement funds, everything in this world. Those who do not believe in Jesus, who seek entertainment and worldly happiness and stress free lives rather than Christ and life under His cross will be devasted when Jesus comes to remove that cross from His church and the Lord coming with power and great glory.

The days of sin and evil, of time and the world, of heaven and earth, will pass away, and it will end in victory and restoration for the Word of the Lord will not pass away. This word has been delivered to us, written in former days for our instruction that through endurance and through the encouragement of Scripture we might have a sure and certain hope. The Bible is a book of calm confidence. It sees the worst and assures of the best in Christ, looking toward the Kingdom of God that cannot be shaken.

Those who trust in Christ will have a different perspective on the day that is coming, the Day of the Lord, the Day of Christ’s return. This is the lesson of the fig tree. The blooming fig tree is a sign that summer is coming, that the sun is going to shine. It is a symbol of joy, of our redemption, of the coming of the Son of Righteousness.

All who receive the King as He comes to His Zion in Word and Sacrament, all who remain faithful until the end shall stand before the Son of Man in glory. Your redemption is drawing near when you will be delivered from your enemies. Your redemption is drawing near when the evils or the world will be no more. Your redemption is drawing near when Christ will come, not in lowliness and humility, but with glory and honor and Hebrews 9:28 speaks of Christ, having been offering once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly awaiting Him.

But let’s be honest. You are easily distracted. It is all too easy to choose the things of this world over Jesus, especially at this time of the year. You get distracted with all the commercial holiday season that’s already been going on for a couple months now. You get caught up in a holiday spirit that has nothing to do with Christ or the Mass in Christmas. You get overwhelmed by the busyness and the stress of the season. In attempts to find some peace, you distract yourselves further, or you go the opposite direction and you shut down and sleep.

Repent. Straighten up. Raise your heads, and look to Jesus. For our Lord doesn’t sleep nor slumber, He doesn’t get worn out or overwhelmed or stressed out. His focus is on you, on your place in His kingdom, on your escape from all these things that are going to happen. He does not get distracted from the purpose for which He comes. Not upon the cross, not in His coming out of the tomb, not in His coming now nor in the future. For He comes. And He does not keep silent. He comes and gathers to Himself His faithful ones. He comes and brings salvation near to you. He is the God of endurance and encouragement. May the Lord wake our hearts to see Him, to be prepared for His coming, and to rejoice in His salvation, to lift up our heads, for our redemption is drawing near.

Advent 1 2018 - Ad Te Levavi

Advent 1 2018

Matthew 21:1-9

The Royal King Comes

December 2, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

One Sunday, a long time ago, the whole city of Jerusalem was stirred up, saying, “Who is this?” Many had heard the stories. Many had seen the signs and miracles. Some believed. Some refused. A crowd was gathered around to see this miracle worker, this man who stirred up such anger among the Pharisees and the Sadducees, who spent time with sinners. And the response to the question was, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” (Matt 21:10-11). Who is this? That is the question we are going to be exploring in more depth throughout our Advent season. What child is this?  Who is this that was born of the virgin, laid in a manger? We recount the story each and every year and yet this question, and more importantly, the answer is still just as important and relevant today as ever.

Who is this? The Creed helps answer this for us: He is the Lord, the only begotten Son of God, begotten of His Father before all worlds, God of God, light of light, very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father by who all things were made, who for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary and was made man.”  This is God in the flesh. This is the Messiah, God’s anointed servant and the true King.

Jesus Christ is the Church’s King.  He rules with grace and with justice. Jesus Christ, God’s only begotten Son, took our sins upon Himself, died for us on the cross, and bought us with His blood. Jesus Christ is our King. We hear today in the Gospel reading, “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.”

Matthew declares that Jesus’ manner of entering Jerusalem fulfills the Scripture in Zechariah 9. Zechariah had prophesied against the nations threatening the exiles who had returned to Jerusalem from their time in Babylon. In doing so, Zechariah speaks of how God would encamp around His city and save her (Zech 9:8). His King would enter the city in peace and war would be far removed from Israel and peace would extend to all the nations. Matthew then, in no uncertain terms, lays out that this Jesus is the King, is Zion’s King, who comes to her in peace, riding upon a donkey.

This is Jerusalem’s rightful King who is drawing near. The donkey is not an animal that a king would choose if he were wishing to emphasize his power. This King rides on a donkey, not on a war horse or chariot. This King is lowly, humble. This King openly enters the city for all to see and for all to believe, if only they will. This King does not come to conquer men. This King comes to conquer death by His death. This King comes to reign by self-sacrifice and to give His life as a ransom for many. Those who wish to reign with Him are called to set aside claims of glory and to follow in His way as He enters the city that would reject and kill Him.

In a world that tried to redefine Christmas as a day about decorations, family, and a time to give and receive presents it misses the point because it misses the answer to the question, “Who is this?” But you, you know the answer. And you have been called not to follow the world and its redefinitions or wandering ways, but to follow the King.

Jesus is the Lord of the church and He rules in the hearts of His people and only those whose hearts He rules belongs to His people. And you are His and He is yours. You are baptized into Christ, the victorious King. You hear His voice proclaimed in the Word of God. You live and breathe in His saving grace and love. You eat His body and drink His blood. With faith you cry out on the Lord’s Day, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Welcome the King as He comes by means of His Word and Sacrament.  Don’t let the devil, the skeptical crowds of the world, the questions of your heart let you believe anything else or anything different that the Good News of Christ crucified and risen for you.  

Today we begin a new church year. But there is nothing new. We hear the same Scripture, are accused by the same Law, forgiven by the same Gospel, worship with the same liturgy, sing the same hymns, guided by the same Spirit, in communion with the same saints, part of the same Church, with the same faith and hope in Jesus. “Who is this?” We answer the hymn proclaims so boldly, “This, this is Christ the King, Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing. Haste, haste, to bring Him laud, The Babe, the Son of Mary.

Last Sunday of the Church Year 2018

Trinity 27 2018/Last Sunday of the Church Year

1 Thessalonians 5:1-11

November 25, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Diogenes the Cynic (ca 412-323 BC), a Greek philosopher, is said to have wandered the streets of Athens with a lantern crying out that he was looking for an honest man, but found nothing but rascals and scoundrels.  That has always been a favorite story of mine.  You can just picture how strange that must have looked to have a grown man walking around in the middle of the day as if it was nighttime, looking for someone who was good and not finding one. 

In our Gospel reading for this morning, we hear of Jesus’ speaking the parable of the 10 virgins. They too were on the lookout for a good man, in fact, the only good man, at least they were supposed to be. They were to wait for the bridegroom, yet some came unprepared.  They had their lamps, but no oil.  And as they went to buy the oil they should have brought in the first place, the bridegroom arrived, welcoming those who were ready and waiting and looking for his return. In the middle of the night, the wise virgins were prepared with the light and welcomed into the marriage feast.

This imagery of night and day is one that Paul also uses in our Epistle lesson from 1 Thessalonians.  1 Thessalonians 5:5, “For you are all children of light, children of the day.  We are not of the night or of the darkness.”  Our lives are lived in the light of Christ.  That means that all our sin is out in the open, that we don’t hide when we do something wrong, but we confess our sin to God, to one another, and receive His forgiveness.  We share each other’s joys and our hurts, approach our brother or sister in Christ openly in the light, not assuming the worse or gossiping or keeping your anger boiling on the inside, but encouraging each other in the faith and the hope we have in Christ.  Until the last shadows of sin are finally chased away and no darkness remains, but we live completely in the light of our resurrected and living Christ when He returns. 

I was just talking to someone about this the other day and they replied that they sure wish Jesus would hurry up so the messes in our lives would be gone.  When that is going to happen is what everyone wants to know.  We hear Paul saying as much to the Thessalonians in today’s Epistle, “Now concerning the times and seasons, brothers, you have no need to have anything written to you.  For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (5:1-2), that is to say, by surprise.  Thieves don’t come on your schedule – if they did, they wouldn’t be very successful.  So one thing you can say for sure is that anyone who comes along saying he knows when the end will come is wrong.

In fact, we read that not only can we not know when, but that when the end does come it will be completely unexpected.  Paul says that people will be saying “there is peace and security” when the Day of the Lord comes.  The idea is that they will have a general feeling of security – everything is status quo – and they will be caught totally off guard.  Many self proclaimed prophecy experts plot the relative frequency of droughts, famines, earthquakes, and hurricanes, and point out that there are more of them recorded in recent years.  They conclude that the end is in sight.  Never mind that the reason for the increase is not that more of these events are occurring, it’s just that there are a lot more people living on the earth and thus more people are affected by them; that, and we do a better job of recording such events that we did in the past.  But again, Paul tells us that the day of the Lord is not going to be the middle of some worldwide crisis, but rather when the world believes that all is safe and secure that the end will come.  It will be when it’s business as usual … which means pretty much any time.

Given that knowledge, knowing that Christ could return at any time shapes everything about how we live as Christians.  1 Thessalonians 5:6, 8 “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.  But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”  We are on the lookout, wide awake, minds and hearts clear, dressed for success.  How many people have gotten up dark and early in the morning?  You stumble around in the dark trying to get your clothes but not turning on the light because you know it’s going to hurt your eyes.  Dress in the light so you can see what you are putting on and that you’re paying attention.  Dress in the right clothes for the occasion.  People wear pajamas or night gowns to bed.  But during the day, you were your work clothes, you were your traveling clothes or your day clothes.  As Christians, children of the day, we are dressed in faith, love, and hope in Christ.  We are being called for readiness, so we don’t get caught with our pants down, when our God personally returns again.

And what a day that’ll be!  1 Thessalonians 5:9-11, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with Him.”  Whether He returns after our death or before, awake or asleep, those made righteous by the blood of Christ will be with Him forever.  Be awake and be ready, being dressed for the day so that when God searches the world with the light of Christ shines not just in our hearts but over the entire world, looking for those who are righteous in His sight through Christ.

Thanksgiving Day 2018

Thanksgiving Day 2018

Philippians 4:6-20

November 22, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

The secret of life.  The secret of happiness.  Many are finding out now that it’s not in the financial market.  It’s not in the money.  Faith in the almighty dollar ultimately will always let people down.  It’s not in relationships with other people, because relationships often are strained to the point of failure.  Paul had found the secret of being content in any and every situation.  Philippians 4:12 “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” 

This secret that Paul found is one that people today are still looking for.  Just watch late night television and you can see the self help books and DVD’s you can buy to get rich fast from the comfort of your own home.  Or turn it on during the day and you can have your time with the self help gurus, the relationship rulers of our day – Judge Judy, Dr. Phil, and all the others.  And then there’s the Sunday morning prosperity preachers preaching a false gospel of health, wealth, and happiness – false christs and prophets as we were warned about last Sunday. They are all in the business of trying to help people find this secret by solving your problems, by looking to your inner strength and self confidence, then you’ll just know this secret.

Though there is some merit to what they do, the main problem is that ultimately all their advice, all the heartwarming stories, all the life changing moments captured forever on screen don’t last.  The excitement fades.  The feelings disappear.  The old problems arise, and the secret turns out to fail when it’s needed the most.

This is usually because people somehow think that their happiness and contentment is determined by their ability to do whatever they want.  And yet with all our technology, with all our advances, with all our progress, people are generally not any happier today than they were 100 years ago.  In fact, many are generally unhappier.  Prosperity can sometimes end up being a source of discontentment, just as much as being in complete need.  And here the secrets of the world always fail.

But we, we Christians, know the secret.  We know what Paul is talking about.  We know the meaning of life. We know the source of contentment in whatever situation we are faced with.  We know how to be happy even when in the dumps.  We know the secret on this Thanksgiving Day.  The secret is not what we’re thankful for, but who we’re thankful to.  The secret, in fact, isn’t a secret at all, for it has been revealed to the whole world by the preaching of the Gospel. Just preceding the verses we heard, Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything with prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

The secret is that we have a God that doesn’t just sit up on His throne way up in heaven, who doesn’t ignore our problems or brush away the bad things that happen as not significant, but who gets down and dirty personally involved in our lives.  The Lord is at hand. He is near. He is coming.  This really is the key to all. We give thanks to the God who is near to us, who became man in order to save us. We give thanks to the God who has given us body and soul, eyes, ears and all our members, our reason and senses, and still takes care of them. We receive these things from His gracious hand as He reaches down into our lives. This is what we’re thankful for this day.  In the midst of an uncertain future, of a culture that is becoming less familiar with the Church and less friendly, we give thanks with content hearts because we have a God who provides for all our needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

And what a more fitting thing today then, that we are gathered in the Lord’s name to receive the Word of the Lord and the blessings from His table.  In this Sacrament, God is active. God offers Himself, His grace, His mercy, His life, His body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. The Word and the Sacraments are the things that true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praise worthy that we are to think about, dwell upon, give thanks for as they enliven, inspire, and guide all that we do.  It is by these means that God creates a spirit of gratitude toward Him that characterizes the life of the Christian. We give thanks for all the favors we have received from God, in particular that we have been chosen to be children of God.

For in our weakness, God’s strength encourages.  In our anxiety, our thankfulness ought to be all the more, for the loving kindness of God breaks through our lives.  We can be thankful that the very Son of God is with us, even when we don’t see or hear Him.  Rather than count your blessings, look to the source of any blessing.  Look to the one who was crucified, died and buried and risen on the third day for you, so that in our thankfulness we practice these things we have learned and received, and the God of peace will be with us always.

Trinity 25 2018

Trinity 25 2018

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

November 18, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID