Lessons and Hymns for Advent 3 A

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

The Coming of the Christ Brings True Rejoicing in His Forgiveness

When he preaches repentance, John the Baptizer points us to Christ Jesus. John was sent by God “as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him” (John 1:7). He baptizes with water in order to “make straight the way of the Lord,” who shall redeem His people from their sins (John 1:23). That Lord Jesus “who comes after” John now stands among us and makes Himself known to us (John 1:26–27). He has been anointed by the Holy Spirit “to bring good news to the poor” and “to bind up the brokenhearted” (Is. 61:1). By the washing of the water with His Word and Spirit, He clothes His Church with “the garments of salvation” and adorns her with His own righteousness “as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Is. 61:10). Therefore, we “rejoice always” in the Lord, “pray without ceasing” and “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16–18). For “the God of peace,” who has called you by the Gospel, will surely “sanctify you completely,” so that “your whole spirit and soul and body” will “be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23–24).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates (LSB 341)
When All the World Was Cursed (LSB 346)
Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness (LSB 563)
Comfort, Comfort Ye My People (LSB 347)
Hark the Glad Sound (LSB 349)

“The devil is in the business of telling people where to go. God is in the business of inviting people to come”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen (he didn’t have one for last week):

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

Within three sentences, a woman once told me about two visitors: She mentioned a member of a confrontational sect who went to her house and a friend who came to her house. If I had not been preparing for the Second Sunday in “Come,” otherwise known by its Latin title “Advent,” I would not have noticed her change of verbs. The reason for the subtle shift was that the second visitor was welcome!

God “came” to the world in Jesus, but not because He was welcome. There was no room and no bed for Him. In no time flat, people tried to kill Him–in less than half a normal lifetime they succeeded.Nonetheless, we are hard-pressed to find a passage saying He left heaven to “go” to earth. It does not say something about earth, but about God, when the Bible says He came!

All the lessons for Sunday have forms of the word, “come.” Given the coldness, if not, hatred of earth–a place to which God had no reason to come–it is a powerful and wonderful message of His grace that we share at Christmas:

He came!

Lessons and Hymns for Advent 2 B

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 40:1-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for Sunday.

You Are Prepared through Repentance for the Coming of the Lord

“The gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) begins when John the Baptist appears and comes “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). As the prophet Isaiah had written, John is the messenger of the Lord, sent before His face to prepare His way. To this day, the ministry of the forerunner continues in the preaching of the Law and the Gospel and in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. By these ways and means, “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” (Is. 40:5), and the Good Shepherd “will gather the lambs in his arms” (Is. 40:11). He speaks “tenderly to Jerusalem,” and He comforts His people by pardoning their iniquity (Is. 40:1–2). What is more, He promises “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). Repent, therefore, and humble yourself as you wait for His coming in peace (2 Peter 3:14), because He “is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Savior of the Nations, Come (LSB 332)
On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry (LSB 344)
Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding (LSB 345)
I Leave All Things to God’s Direction (LSB 719)
Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord (LSB 352)

Lessons and Hymns for Advent 1 B

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Isaiah 64:1-9
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
Mark 11:1-10

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

The Lord Jesus Comes in Meekness and Humility to Save Us

Although we pray that God “would rend the heavens and come down” (Is. 64:1), that He would take vengeance against our enemies, we ourselves “have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Is. 64:6). We have continued in our sins for “a long time, and shall we be saved?” (Is. 64:5). Yet, the Lord does not punish us in anger. He comes in voluntary meekness and humility to save us by His grace. Just as He once came into Jerusalem to sacrifice Himself for us upon the cross (Mark 11:4–8), He still comes to His Church with the fruits of His Passion. By His ministry of the Gospel, we are “enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge,” and so He will “sustain you to the end” (1 Cor. 1:5, 8). Although “heaven and earth will pass away,” His words “will not pass away” (Mark 13:31). As He sends disciples to call us to Himself in the fellowship of His Church, so will He “send out the angels” to gather us and all of His elect “from the ends of the earth” to Himself in heaven forever (Mark 13:27).

These are the hymns we will sing:

The Advent of Our King (LSB 331)
Jesus Came, the Heavens Adoring (LSB 353)
Jerusalem, My Happy Home (LSB 673)
O Savior, Rend the Heavens Wide (LSB 355)
Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer (LSB 918)

“Prepare to meet your Maker”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 65:17-25
2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-10, 13
Matthew 25:1-13

Two weeks ago, I saw a sign on a mountain highway in Idaho that repeated a message I saw last summer in the Smokey Mountains: “Prepare To Meet Your God!” I remember one in Colorado that was professionally painted and constructed. The message was similar: “Prepare To Meet Your Maker.” In those settings, such a sign has a sobering, if not frightening effect. For many people, it is always a doomsday sort of message.

In the setting of steep, winding roads, with hairpin curves, people may need a little jolt of a sense of danger. I know I will never forget the way a boat and trailer seemed to push our van down the Little Bighorn Mountains one time. Hot brakes are not on my list of fun things! But is preparing to meet God synonymous with preparing for danger?

Old Testament prophets were often upset that the people of Israel had a smug and self-satisfied concept of their relationship with God. Many Israelites looked forward to what they called “the Day of the Lord.” They anticipated God coming with judgment against their unrighteous, hostile neighbors. Prophets often pointed out that Israel was itself a long way from righteous. Those prophets called Israel’s religion a pretense — form without meaning, words without intentions, entertainment instead of worship. They accused the people of ignoring justice for the poor and substance for the needy. Some prophets warned that the Day of the Lord would mean judgment against Israel — a day of darkness and not of light!

In Old and New Testaments, the Day of the Lord is mixed with judgment and salvation. Naturally, our perspective of the event will be colored by our expectations. In the image of last week’s lesson, if God is coming with blessings for those on the right and curses for those on the left, you will anticipate the event quite differently depending on your location. The problem is that we may think we are in one place when we are actually in the other. Where are you?

In the Gospel Lesson, Jesus tells a story that emphasizes the need to be prepared at all times to meet our God. His story puts a slightly different slant on the results of God’s coming. Here is an updated version of the story from Feddersen’s Fables. One Saturday a wedding was held in one town, but the reception was 60 miles away at another town. After the wedding, professional photographers held sway, so everyone except the wedding party went ahead to the hall. There were five bridesmaids and five groomsmen, counting the best man and maid of honor. When the photography was finished, the bride and groom rode with the best man and maid of honor, two groomsmen and two bridesmaids rode in another car and the other four followed in a third car.

The people in the third car had not thought ahead about the distance, and they ran out of gas on the way. The engine stalled when they were between towns, so it took quite a while to get gasoline and finally arrive at the reception. When they arrived, the hotel doorman asked for their invitations. They said they didn’t have any because they were in the wedding party. He laughed and said, “Right, and I’m the groom! The wedding party arrived over an hour ago.” With that, he shut the door and walked away. The four of them missed out on the party because they had not prepared by filling the gas tank in advance.

If you haven’t guessed it, the parable is about the foolish and wise bridesmaids, who either did or did not bring enough oil for their lamps. The reason to be prepared is that, if you are not, you miss out on the party!

I am reminded of another story; it concerns a couple of fellows named Wilbur and Orville Wright. One day, a friend stopped at their bicycle shop and they took him to a special shed where very few others had ever been. They showed him a biplane with a homemade, twelve horsepower engine, and they even showed him where the pilot could lay prone between the wings to fly the thing. They told him that they had just finished putting the final touches on it. Filled with enthusiasm, he suggested that they go out to Kitty Hawk and fly it. Wilbur said, “Are you kidding? Do you know how much money we’ve got tied up in this thing?” Orville added, “We’re not about to take a chance on wrecking it by trying to fly it!”

The story is obviously not true, but the truth is just as many prophets and Jesus said it — some people miss out on the party even when it looks on the surface like they are prepared. Can you imagine the Wright Brothers taking their plane out to Kitty Hawk and forgetting to bring gasoline? You see the Wright boys didn’t just want an airplane — they wanted to fly!

Too many Christians just want an airplane or, with reference to the other story, they are satisfied to have a car on the parking lot. The fact that it doesn’t have any fuel doesn’t concern them. After all, the party won’t be till later. But the Christian life is not a possession. It is not something you have, but something you live.

In Jesus’ parable, the bridegroom came at an unexpected time. The lesson concludes: “You know neither the day nor the hour.” We are never prepared for the unexpected. If we expect something, we get prepared! Five bridesmaids thought the groom might come late, so they brought extra oil. They expected him. They just didn’t know when! If he came early, they were prepared. If he came late, they were still prepared. Jesus is coming.

While on an expedition to the Antarctic, Sir Ernest Shackleton left some men to explore Elephant Island while he and the rest went on. By the time he returned to pick them up, the sea had frozen over. Three attempts to reach them ended in failure. When he finally found a narrow channel through the ice and made it to the island, he was delighted to find that they were not only alive and well but all prepared to get aboard. After they were all safely on their way home, Shackleton asked about their being entirely ready to board when he arrived. They told him that every morning their leader rolled up his sleeping bag and said, “Get your things ready, boys, the boss may come today.” Jesus is coming.

Using the technique of a certain earthquake prognosticator, I am compelled to warn you that there is a 50 percent chance that Jesus will come on the day you read this devotion. That means there is a 50-50 chance He will come on that particular day. In other words, either He will or He won’t. Since we know He is coming, but we don’t know when, the odds are the same every day!

Here are some thoughts on preparedness. If He comes this Sunday morning, where do you suppose He will head to look for His people? There is a 50-50 chance He will come on the day our nation has set aside to give Him thanks. Where will you be and what do you plan to do that day?

It is interesting how Jesus tried to prepare His disciples for His death. Yet, when it happened, it was unexpected. In the last days of His life on earth, Jesus confused two of the surest things everybody knows: (1) God can’t die, and (2) dead men can’t rise up again. Along with those, He also did a number on these: Some things can’t be forgiven. No one can love that much. All murderers go to Hell. The only sure things are death and taxes.

For those who believe in Christ, eternal life is a sure thing, so is a party that has been described as the wedding feast of the Kingdom of God. Other sure things include the peace beyond human understanding and the joy of Christ’s presence now … at least for those who have fuel for their lamps or in their tanks. Are you ready? Will you be at the party?

Lessons and Hymns for the Last Sunday of the Church Year A

These are the Scripture readings you will hear this coming Sunday:

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Matthew 25:31-46

Click here to read the above lessons and the propers for the day.

By the Cross of Christ, We Enter the Kingdom of Our God and Father

When the crucified and risen Lord Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead, “he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:32). “To those on his right,” who have been crucified and raised with Him through repentance and faith in His Gospel, He will grant the blessed kingdom of His Father (Matt. 25:34). Having been justified by His grace, they live unto righteousness in Him (Matt. 25:35–40). But “those on his left,” who trust in themselves and despise their neighbor, will depart “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Until that day, the Lord searches for His sheep “as a shepherd seeks out his flock” (Ezek. 34:11–12). Through His preaching of repentance, He disciplines the proud sheep and goats, “the fat and the strong,” but through the preaching of forgiveness He rescues the lost, binds up the injured, strengthens the weak and feeds “the lean sheep” (Ezek. 34:16, 20). In this way, He destroys the power of death in the children of Adam by His cross, so that “in Christ shall all be made alive” by His resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20–26).

These are the hymns we will sing:

Come, Thou Almighty King (LSB 905)
The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns (LSB 532)
Crown Him with Many Crowns (LSB 525)
Beautiful Savior (LSB 537)
Jesus Christ, My Sure Defense (LSB 741:1 & 8)

“May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Job 14:1-6
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13
Matthew 24:15-28

A few weeks ago I had chapel here in our building. I shared some thoughts on the opening words of Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. He said: “We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your  labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

In the Edit-O-Earl for Pentecost 22, I drew your attention to those same words, especially Paul’s favorites, “faith, love and hope.” In one of his most quoted passages (First Corinthians 13), he wrote about them and closed, “and the greatest of these is …”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone in the church began all communication with others in the church by thanking God for them? All God’s children have been given faith, hope and love by the power of the Holy Spirit. We may all sin and have lots of shortcomings and do all sorts of things that upset each other or cause differences among us, but we still have good reason to thank God for each other. If we began that way, by giving thanks, I can’t help but believe it would have a wonderful influence on how we finished.

This week’s Epistle lesson, also from First Thessalonians, is not much different from Paul’s beginning of the letter. In this lesson he says, “May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.”

The words seem innocent enough. It is common among Christians to speak of loving each other. We are only following our Leader when we do. Jesus said that the world would know we are His disciples because of our love for each other. But the plain facts are that there was a whole lot of hate in Thessalonica!

Paul first went there after suffering persecution, a physical beating and imprisonment, in Philippi. Later, he was forced to leave Thessalonica because of persecution there! In fact, some of the Thessalonians followed him and stirred up trouble for him in Berea as well. Persecution continued for any Thessalonians who came to faith in Christ as a result of Paul and others telling the Good News about Jesus to them.

Still later, knowing that they were continually being persecuted, Paul sent Timothy to find out how the believers in Christ were doing … particularly how they were withstanding the persecution. When Timothy returned with a good report about the Thessalonians, Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to encourage these new Christians to remain steadfast in the faith, clinging to God’s grace in Christ.

When Paul wrote in verse 13 of Sunday’s lesson, “May He [the Lord] strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones,” his purpose was twofold. First, he was earnestly praying that God would preserve their Christian faith and life. Second, he was reminding them that the persecutors of the church have their day coming … “when our Lord Jesus comes with all His holy ones”!

Apocalyptic images of Archangel Michael and his warriors sharpening their swords in anticipation of bringing paybacks to persecutors are designed to reassure the persecuted. It’s kind of like saying that, even if the U.S. Armed Forces don’t find Bin Laden, Michael and his friends will!

But even in the midst of persecution and trouble, our love for each other must increase and overflow. The overflow part has the rich possibility of transforming our enemies into friends. That’s why Paul didn’t stop with just love for each other. He added, “and for everyone else.”

He also added, “just as ours does for you.” Again, this is so Christ-like. Jesus often urged His disciples and He urges us to love as we have been loved. Among His famous last words in the upper room, perhaps the most significant were, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34).

He said that right after He had washed the disciples’ feet and not long before He also said: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:18-20).

The entire conversation took place on the night He was betrayed. It was the same night and about the same time He said about a piece of bread, “This is my body given for you.” It was the same night and about the same time He said about a cup of wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

That is how much He loved them. That is how much He loves you.

I can’t read these words of Paul without remembering those words of Jesus. Paul knew Jesus’ words well, he repeated them in First Corinthians 11:24-25.

Jesus came to the world to change enemies into friends. Perhaps as our love increases and overflows, He is doing the same thing through us today. But we get in His way when we nurse our differences, instead of thanking Him for our faith, hope and love. We get in His way when we dwell on bad news and fail to tell the Good News about Jesus. We get in His way when we whimper about persecution in the church and neglect His mission to everyone outside it.

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. Amen.