Lessons and Hymns for Advent 3

Lessons for Advent 3

Zephaniah 3:14–20
Psalm 85
Philippians 4:4–7
Luke 7:18–28 (29–35)

The Coming of Jesus Enables Us to Rejoice

The Third Sunday in Advent has traditionally been called by the Latin word, Gaudete, meaning “Rejoice!” For as you are called to repentance, so also are you also urged to rejoice in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. By His own Cross, He has accomplished salvation for you; “He has cleared away your enemies,” “taken away the judgments against you,” and has come to reign in your midst. Indeed, He rejoices over you with gladness! (Zeph. 3:15­–17). Therefore, even from prison St. Paul encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord always,” knowing that the peace of God will guard and keep us in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:4, 7). We find an example and encouragement in the case of John the Baptizer. As he languishes in prison, he calls upon Jesus and is strengthened by the Word of the Gospel that he receives. The same good news is preached to you, by which all things are made new and even “the dead are raised up” (Luke 7:22). Do not be offended by the cross, therefore, but let your life be one of prayer and thanksgiving (Luke 7:23; Phil 4:6).

Hymns We Will Sing

“Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers” (LSB 515)
“Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates” (LSB 340)
“Once He Came in Blessing” (LSB 333)
“Hark the Glad Sound” (LSB 349)

Congratulations!

A small idea that began with our Sunday School staff to ask the children to bring in money to help purchase phone cards for military personnel in the Middle East mushroomed with members of Christ the King contributing as well. The final total is in excess of $650.00 and for that all of you deserve a word of thanks for helping this three week project be successful.

May God bless all our soldiers around the world.

Could This Happen In New Jersey?

For almost two years in my hometown of St. Louis MO, the major east-west highway (US Highway 40 or as it will be called–Interstate 64) has had a ten mile stretch completely closed for rebuilding. For those of you familiar with St. Louis, this section of highway began a few miles west of downtown and extended out to Interstate 270 (the highway which goes completely around St. Louis).

Granted, the population of the St. Louis area is no where near what it is in northern New Jersey but picture in your mind closing Route 4 from just west of the George Washington Bridge for ten miles. Think about what that would mean in terms of disruption and inconvenience for motorists! Now you get the picture.

Here’s a link to an article which celebrates the re-opening of the highway. And here is a link to some photos which shows the activities that took place on Sunday.

The highway will reopen for traffic on Monday, December 7 three weeks ahead of schedule and millions under budget (do you really think that could happen in New Jersey–I doubt it).

A couple of interesting facts for you: one of the main construction companies, Fred Weber Construction has a Lutheran connection. I went to high school with Karen Weber, daughter of Fred Weber. Second, in one of the pictures you see the exit sign for Hampton Ave./Oakland Ave. At that exit you will find the hospital I was born in. Across from hospital, on the other side of the highway is Forest Park, the largest city park in the country.

Tomorrow will be a great day for those who couldn’t travel on Highway 40 for these many months.

He Comes!

Advent is a time of preparation. Advent, in Latin, means, “he comes.” In that sense, Advent is a confession of the faith that the Word who was there at the beginning, before the dawn of time, comes. Not “he came,” but rather, “he comes.” He continues to come to us as He is, the Word, not only through the hearing of the Scriptures and the preaching of Himself in all purity and truth, but he continues to come in His enfleshed self, through His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. He who was there before the dawn of time comes for us.

John the evangelist, while writing his Gospel, knew that there were already in his day (and probably assumed there would be in the future) those who would doubt who Jesus really was. There were some who would say the divinity of God could never suffer death on the cross. The purity of God would never pollute itself so radically as to become flesh. Jesus must have only just appeared to be human. Others would say that Jesus was someone special, but not really divine. Both ideas rob us of the joy of salvation in knowing that He was “tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15) and that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

The Advent season focuses our attention not only on what happened at a manger in Bethlehem but also on what happened on a cross at Golgotha, what continues to happen at the altar of the Lord, and what will happen on the Last Day. He comes.

“The Flowers of Righteousness…The Presents of His Presence”

On Thursdays (if I don’t forget), I’m going to post devotions based on the the coming Sunday’s lessons. These were written by Rev. Earl Fedderson who, before his retirement in 2004, served in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s World Mission Department. I always enjoyed reading these weekly treasures and I pray you find value in them too.

Malachi 3:1-4
Philippians 1:3-11
Luke 3:1-6

There are many illustrations in the Bible about trees, vines, plants and fruits. One of the most frequent is that the people of God, like trees, vines and other plant life, are to bear fruit. Illustrations from nature are very common and, because they unfold from the universal experience of all mankind, they are very helpful. Fruits, nuts and berries are food sources for virtually every civilization, dating back to earliest human history. To speak of bearing fruit in various aspects of life comes quite naturally.

One of the more common illustrations comes from the fact that the seeds of reproduction are normally part of the fruits produced by trees and other plants. “Bearing fruit,” for us disciples, means making more disciples through the sharing of the Gospel. Then, when those who are lost are found, they become seekers and sharers themselves, bearing even more fruit! This is our mission.

Another familiar illustration is often used during stewardship efforts. The people of God return their “first fruits” to Him and His work in the world. We are seen as bearing fruit whenever we answer the call of God and use the talents He gives us to perform His work in the world–everything from caring for those in any need to proclaiming the Kingdom. Jesus’ parable about the vine and the fruit-bearing branches is not an entirely new thought. In the Old Testament, Israel is often called the “Vineyard of the Lord.”

In the Epistle lesson for this Sunday, St. Paul tells the Christians at Philippi, in Macedonia, that his prayer for them is that their love may abound more and more in all knowledge and insight…that they may approve the things that are excellent…be pure and without offense in the day of Christ…and be filled with the “fruit of righteousness.”

I believe that, in this instance, Paul is not talking about the fruits of disciple reproduction or the fruits of stewardship or service. I think he is talking about something more personal–an outward display or demonstration of a change that has taken place inside of us. These are more like blossoms or flowers than fruits.

In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul lists several things as the “fruit of the Sprit.” I think he has these same things in mind for the Christians in Philippi…and St. Louis…and your hometown. In Galatians 5:22, Paul says, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”

Notice how the first three of these are among our fondest Advent themes: God so LOVED the world that He sent good tidings of great JOY and PEACE on earth. Actually all of these, with the exception of self-control, are words that appear in the Christmas carols and stories. These are the flowers of righteousness–fruits of the Spirit to be sure–sweet-smelling and beautiful blossoms on the lives of God’s holy people.

Usually, at this time of the year, I like to think of myself as the frugal one in the family–not spending much money on the gifts and folderol associated with the season. I want you all to know that at any time of the year I would gladly drain all my cash and savings if I could wrap up and send to all my relatives and friends–including all of you reading these words–these precious gifts: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness. How wonderful it would be if we could undo a bow, unwrap a package and–ZAP–have these marvelous flowers blooming in our lives.

The truth is that, even if I had all the money in the world, I couldn’t buy or give these presents. The most I can hope for is that with God’s help I will be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful and gentle.

The key of course is the phrase, “with God’s help.” These are fruits of the Spirit–only God can make such flowers grow. Botanists tell us that a right combination of several ingredients will make a plant grow and produce fruit. These include proper amounts of nutrition, moisture, cross-pollination and sunshine. For reasons known only to God, many houseplants and finer varieties of flowers thrive far more gloriously with a generous amount of TLC from the humans who tend them!

The flowers of righteousness thrive on the grace of God, the Gospel, the Sacraments and the mutual tender loving care of God’s people. If you plant yourself down in your job and your living room, braving the cold in this holy season only to travel to Target, these flowers will not grow. You will not receive these precious gifts for they are the presents of His presence–they were never wrapped with a bow and wrapping paper–but they were once wrapped in swaddling clothes.

You know, one of the worst things that happens to all of us when shopping is when we finally find just the item we wanted, joyfully buy it and then find it again in the very next store at half-price. It usually happens where they display big signs saying: NO RETURNS!

Many people make poor purchases and bad trades. “Feddersen’s Fables” has a story about a merchant who heard that the residents of a South Sea island had more gold than they could use, so he decided to help them with their problem. He sailed to the island with a boatload of onions. The islanders were so pleased with this new delicacy that they gladly filled his ship with gold.

The merchant’s business rival thought that if the natives liked onions, they would love garlic. He was absolutely right. When he arrived with his load of garlic, they were more than willing to take it off his hands. In fact, they were so delighted that they wouldn’t think of trading him something so commonplace as gold so they reloaded his ship with their most prized possession–onions!

Someone has said that Christmas is just too much–we eat too much, drink too much and spend too much. It sounds like self-control is a needed flower at Christmas after all! If prizes and pleasures are our only gifts this year and not the flowers of righteousness, then it’s a bad trade–onions instead of gold. All we have left when it’s over is a bad taste in our mouths.

The worst trade of all time was the best trade for you and me. Jesus gave His life for yours and mine. He accepted the agony of the cross so that you and I do not face the agony of separation from God and condemnation. And there are returns! We return again and again…to the stable and manger, to the cross and to the empty tomb. Jesus paid the price for us and freely gives us forgiveness, life, salvation and the savory fruits of righteousness.

Destroyed Optimism?

I receive headlines and news alerts from the New York Times and this alert came just a few moments ago:

The New York State Senate Votes Down Gay Marriage Bill, 38-24

The State Senate defeated a bill on Wednesday that would
legalize same-sex marriage, after an emotional debate that
touched on civil rights, family and history. The vote means
that the bill, pushed by Gov. David A. Paterson, is
effectively dead for the year and destroys the optimism of
gay advocates.

I’m not here to comment on the vote itself but that last phrase “destroys the optimism of gay advocates”. I feel badly for those advocates if they have no more optimism. It sounds as if their lives don’t have much depth. Maybe they ought to try going to church and hear about Jesus and His plan of salvation. That’s something to be optimistic about!

Public Notoriety and Personal Responsibility

The Tiger Woods saga that has been displayed in the media this week reminded me that clergy also live with similar boundaries on their lives. Please understand that I am not comparing myself or any other pastor to Mr. Woods but there is a point of comparison to be made.

When I entered the ministry and began serving a congregation in the little town of Dillsboro IN that was the last place where I thought I would have be careful about how my life was conducted. There were only 850 people in the whole town, the world contained billions! But I was so wrong.

Here are a couple of examples. As with all states, I had to get a new license plate for our car shortly after our arrival. The state license office was in a community about 10 miles away and I discovered that the manager of the office was a member of the local Lutheran church. She happened to wait on me and seeing my name and realizing I was a Lutheran pastor, she informed me that all Lutheran pastors and teachers in the county received special plates courtesy of her. At that time, Indiana license plates used the first two numbers for the designation of the county you lived in, followed by a letter, and then four more numbers. The branch manager had ordered a small number of plates with the letter “L” on them (for Lutheran) and gave those to the pastors and teachers of the Lutheran churches. Therefore, if you knew the system and what the letter stood for, it was easy to determine who was in the car. What that meant is that not one Lutheran pastor or teacher would go to a liquor store in our county for fear of causing a community discussion about their use of alcohol! Plus, wherever you parked, people would know you were in the area and may wonder why you were there (good reason? bad reason?). You get the picture–we had to behave ourselves in ways that conformed to or surpassed expected community standards.

Second, there came a time Barb and I were moving from the apartment the congregation rented for us (the parsonage was being torn down and replaced during the first 15 months we were there) to a larger house just a couple of blocks away. For the bigger items we used members’ trucks to get the job done but for the smaller things we packed them in boxes we got from the local grocery store. We then just carried them the short distance ourselves. Well, one box we used said “Pampers” diapers on the side and it wasn’t but a day or so that the rumor was getting around town that Barb was pregnant! It was a valuable lesson for us–you can’t hide in a small town!

Now, how does all this relate to Tiger Woods? What happened to him this past weekend does catch the attention of the world because of his public notoriety. He is in this position because of his amazing ability to play golf very, very well plus the way he has capitalized upon his skill to earn a large sum of money and to do so publicly. We all know how good he is and we see him in advertisements regularly.

What has gotten Woods into trouble is lack of accepting personal responsibility for his actions which now seem to include much more than a simple accident. I told my confirmation class this week as we were discussing the Eighth Commandment that honesty remains the best policy. Tiger Woods feels that by not addressing the issue publicly is the correct way to proceed. I disagree. When you become a public person, you need to accept personal responsibility in a public way too. I suspect that’s a lesson Tiger is learning in a very painful fashion right now.

As a pastor, I have learned that my life is not always as private as I would like. Not many of you dear readers have your annual salary dealt with in a very public way but I certainly have faced that–every year of my ministry. When the congregation has on paper what the pastor’s salary is and when there is a proposal to give the pastor a raise, that discussion takes place in a very public way called the Voters’ Meeting. Many times I have been asked to leave the meeting when my salary comes up so that the members feel “free” to express their opinion or whether or not I was worth any increase. It doesn’t bother me now but I have had to develop a thick skin when such discussions arose. If you think it doesn’t matter, try having your salary discussed by many people who will have varying opinions about your worth. Let me know how you feel.

The situation for Tiger Woods will only get better when he takes personal responsibility for his actions and addresses them publicly. Then he will be able to experience the blessings of repentance, confession, and forgiveness that we believers in Jesus have known about for a long time. It’s the only way I know how to deal with sin.