"It's the most wonderful time of the year." Do you agree? Or do the "magical" moments of the days before Christmas get overshadowed by the stress of how much has to get done with limited time and money before Christmas comes? Does the illness or death of a loved one steal the joy out of the season? This week, our God wants to lift our spirits above the troubles of life and fill us with true and lasting joy.
Do you ever feel completely unlovable? You've done or said something that really hurt someone. You've given in to that same temptation all over again. You've let someone down. And you feel terrible about it. How can they forgive you? Why would anyone love you? If we take God's law and his coming judgment seriously, we should be asking, "Why would God love me?" In this sermon, we hear what God promises to do, when we are unlovable.
This Sunday, we begin a new church year with the season of Advent, a time in which we focus on the advent (coming) of the Christ as the Savior born in Bethlehem, on his coming to us in Word and Sacrament, and on his coming on the Last Day as King and Judge. For us who see him as their Savior, Advent fills us with real and certain hope in a world made hopeless by sin.
On this last Sunday of the Church Year, we rejoice because Christ our King reigns--the King who once came as a sacrifice; the King who still shepherds us day by day; the King who one day will conquer all of our enemies. Rejoice in his reign and look forward to the day when every knee will bow with us before the King of kings and Lord of Lords!
Maybe you've heard from friends who are somewhere warm this week. Is there a part of you that wishes you were there? No need to bundle up. No threat of snow. A break from the daily routine. This week, we get a glimpse of someplace far better, and we get to stay there forever! And every week, our time together in God's house is a sweet foretaste of the glory to come!
The other day on the radio, I heard someone say, "I don't like being called a sheep." (I think they were talking about being accused of blindly following the crowd.) The Bible often compares Christians to sheep. Do you like being called a sheep, especially when Jesus tells us that he sends us out "like sheep among wolves"? Like it or not, it's a good illustration of our life and mission as Christians in this world.
When a couple celebrates a milestone wedding anniversary (25, 40, 50, 60 years), people might ask, "What's your secret? How has your marriage lasted so long?" If someone were to ask us similar questions, as we celebrate the 45th anniversary of our congregation's founding, how would we answer? What is our secret? How has it lasted this long? God's Word gives the only real answers to those questions.
Parents have certain expectations of their children. Bosses have certain expectations of their employees. Teachers have certain expectations of their students. When those expectations are not met, there is a problem and there are often consequences. This week, Jesus tells us a story that helps us to understand God's expectations of us and how those expectations are met.
We have basic standards by which we tend to measure fairness: rewards for hard work and good deeds, punishment for doing wrong. The more you work, the more good things you do, the more you deserve. It's something that's so ingrained in us that we expect God to operate by the same standard. But this week, Jesus tells a story to teach us that God doesn't work that way, and for that we praise him!
Is it any wonder that Independence Day is one of the biggest celebrations of the year in our country? Following in the footsteps of our forefathers, who resisted the tyranny of the British government, we are taught to be independent in the way we think and live. Depend on no one. Answer to no one. Live for no one but yourself. But God's Word for us this week reminds us that there is a better way to think about and use our freedom.
Debt is a difficult subject to talk about. Many of us hate the thought of owing anything to anyone. But not all debt is bad. This week, God's Word teaches us that there is a debt we can never pay off but that we consider a joy and a privilege to make payments on.
What do you do when you don't understand God? How do you feel when God just doesn't seem to make sense? How do you react when you have more questions than answers about him? The Word for this week gives us comfort, encouragement, and advice for such moments.
The readers of Paul's letter to the Romans were primarily Gentiles. Yet, Paul had not forgotten about the Jews, and neither had God. Despite generations of disobedience and unbelief, God wasn't giving up on them. The reason for his persistence is great news not only for the Jews but for all people. Indeed, it is news we all need to hear.
A family member doesn't go to church. A once-faithful Christian drifts away. A classmate or neighbor is a follower of a non-Christian religion. How does it make you feel? What, if anything, do you do or say about it? Paul's words to the Romans this week reveal his reaction to the same situations we see every day. Through his words, God challenges us to examine our own hearts, as we think about the importance of knowing, following, and sharing Jesus.
There are many ways people show love to one another. Flowers, gifts, cards, hugs, or even a simple smile can be great ways to say, "I love you!" Without outward actions, the words, "I love you," are hard to believe. We often need to see love to believe it. How does God show his love to make sure that we believe it? And how does God's love affect our lives in good times and bad? God's Word answers those important questions.
Why? It's one of the most common and most difficult questions that people--even Christians--ask. Why did this happen to me? Why didn't that happen? Why am I going through this? God doesn't always give us specific answers to those questions. But the Bible does gives us one important and incredibly comforting fact to cling to and all the proof we need that it is true. Here we find hope in answer to every "why?" in your life.
Martin Luther once wrote, "A Christian without prayer is just as impossible as a living person without a pulse" (Luther's Works, vol. 24, p. 89). The conversation which God invites us to have with him is an important fruit of our faith and a vital component of our Christian life. But have you ever found yourself at a loss for words when you want to pray? You don't know where to begin. You don't know what to pray for. God's Word speaks to that very situation.
How easily we compare our lives to the lives of those around us. Who has more money? Who works harder? Who endures more hardships? And, when life gets tough, it is tempting to respond with sinful attitudes--questioning God's love, accusing him of injustice, doubting his promises, even growing angry at him. God wants to give hope and meaning to our lives by shifting our perspective.
It seems so simple--just a few drops of water and a few words. If you judge by appearances, you can understand why some see baptism as an optional symbolic ceremony. But, when we listen to what God says about it in his Word, we realize that there is much more than meets the eye. Baptism is a powerful and precious gift from God that changes our lives every day in this world and for eternity in heaven.