Posted in advent, Advent devotions, Devotions

2020 Advent devotion: She knew who he would be

“Live and in person” Advent devotion for December 17, 2020. Read Luke 1:26-38 and Psalm 103.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
  And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
  And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. (Luke 1:30-35)

The addition of a newborn to the family sparks the imagination. Parents watch with great interest, noticing (and bragging) about the slightest hints of athletic ability, musical aptitude, artistic tendencies and a higher than average IQ. With a vision for what that young child could grow up to be, they will invest in lessons, instruments, leotards, balls and books. Preschool is a must so that the child keeps up with others already on track for scholarships, medical school and talent agencies.

It was a bit different for Jesus. From conception, Mary knew exactly what her son would be and what he would do. He was destined for politics, assuming the throne of his ancestor David. He would be religious, filled with the Spirit and a child of God. He would learn a trade from his father, carpentry. He would dabble in fishing, the healing arts and meal prep. But his name alone spoke of his primary mission. They would name him Jesus, for he would save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

Few lives are linear. While some know exactly what they want to do from a young age, others have lots of false starts. Students change their college majors early and often. Aspiring physicians discover they can’t handle the sight of blood, and branch off into other sciences. Some don’t discover what they are good at until they have tried a number of things. You might be cut out for a job that won’t even exist for another twenty years.

Queen Esther discovered she was around for a special moment. Peter, Andrew, James and John all changed careers mid-stream, leaving their fishing business to follow Jesus. Joseph, Daniel, David and Gideon are just a few who found themselves in totally unexpected leadership positions. And what a surprise it was when Mary learned she was going to be a mom!

From a young age, Jesus knew who he was and what he would do. In the temple at age twelve, he felt very comfortable in his father’s house. At his baptism, he knew the path he had to take to fulfill all righteousness. He didn’t let the devil or anyone else detour him from his mission. He knew the course of his life as determined by prophecies. He knew that he had come to die, to rise and to save.

Isn’t it amazing that God knows exactly who you’ll turn out to be? Since he designed and made you, he knows more about you than you do! It’s also amazing that each of us gets to be a number of things. We get to be part of a family, friends, parents, grandparents and beyond. We’ve got both vocations and avocational activities to get involved in. And through it all, we find “favor with God,” by grace and through faith in Mary’s child, the Son of God.

Thank you, Lord, for making me who I am and for being who you are, my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Posted in sermon

“To what has God called you?”

Transcription of Sunday, October 22, 2017 sermon based on 1 Peter 2:9-10. 

Oct 22 cover picI know that some of you have had the opportunity to take a river cruise in Europe. You’ve ridden on some beautiful boats and sailed down some magnificent rivers. You’ve seen the scenery, cities, cathedrals, and castles. What a great trip!

Others of you had the opportunity to travel to Germany and you’ve toured the places where Martin Luther lived and worked. I know there are a few people in our congregation who have gone to see the passion play in Oberammergau, put one once every ten years.

That’s why there is a buzz in the congregation today. You are really excited because you heard we were going to talk about Luther’s doctrine of vacation! Actually we are talking about Luther’s doctrine of vocation, one of the most important teachings that comes out of the time of the Reformation.

What is your vocation?

When I ask that question you translate it in your mind to, “What do you do for a living?” “What’s your job, profession, or career?” We expand the definition of vocation to include those who are full time parents, students and your side hustle which earns you a little extra money.

That question becomes a little harder to answer once you’ve retired from the workforce. It’s more challenging to answer once you no longer have a job or a profession or a career. Our identities are so tied up in what we do, that we easily lose our identity when we clean out our desk and hand over the keys. Now we don’t have to get up and go to work every day.

What is your vocation?

When the Bible speaks of this, it includes more than just your profession. It’s more than just being a carpenter, fisherman, farmer, shepherd, soldier, government official, or a grower of olive trees. When the Bible speaks of what you vocation is, it refers to your station in life at this time and in this place. This would include more than what you do to earn money. It has to do with relationships, like being a parent or grandparent. Or being a spouse. Part of the community. A citizen of your country.

When we speak about pastors and teachers and those in full time church work, we say they haven’t been “hired,” but “called.” Each one of you has also been called. God has “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Now you are God’s people.

To what has God called you?

Martin Luther wrote about this in reaction to monastic life in the early 16th century. Monastic life is what you take on when you take vows to be monks or nuns. You renounce worldly possessions, promise to remain celibate, spend your time fasting, praying, worshiping and working in your monasteries or cloisters, isolated from the rest of the world. This system developed to the point where people would look up to those who make these vows. They looked up to those who took on that lifestyle and considered them as those who merited God’s favor. It developed into a caste system within the church. Those who had taken these vows merited God’s favor more than other occupations. They were special; everyone else was common or lay people. They were so special they merit favor for ordinary people, too.

The thing is, as good as that sounds, there’s nothing in God’s Word commanding people to take these vows and live that way. There is nothing in God’s Word promising special blessings for those who do those things. These are man-made traditions that developed into very good works for God.

On the other hand God’s Word is filled with descriptions of what God had in mind for his people from the beginning of creation. God instituted things like marriage and family and government and jobs for his people. God’s Word is filled with promised blessing for husbands and wives, parents and children, and for government and citizens.

The whole idea of vocation isn’t a special niche of religious life. It’s not what you do for a living. It’s more about who you are at this point in time. This is not a coincidence or your choice. It’s what God has called you to.

God’s Word makes it very clear that there is nothing to merit his favor. Absolutely nothing. there is nothing you can do to make God happy with you, and there’s nothing you can do that will make God hate you. God’s Word says that clearly in Romans 3: “The righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.” Being right in God’s sight is about the law. It comes through faith in Jesus Christ. We attain the righteousness of God through our faith. By his perfect life on this and his innocent suffering and death and his powerful resurrection from the dead, Jesus did everything necessary to merit God’s favor for you. He did everything required. He paid for every single sin. You have that relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Nothing else needs to be done. Nothing else can be done.

To illustrate this Luther used the story of the Christmas shepherds. There’s a story we all know. We all know that when Jesus was born n Bethlehem there were shepherds in the fields at night watching over their flocks. They were the first ones to hear the announcement that a Savior had been born. They were the first ones to go and see the Christ who was just a baby. And then they returned. Where? To their flocks. To their jobs. To their responsibilities. With joy in their hearts and a message on their lips, into the role to which God called them.

We do the same thing. We have heard that our Savior has come. We know that Jesus Christ was born, lived, and rose again. We come hear his voice and to see him. He comes to us in his word and in the sacrament, his body broken for us and his blood poured out for us at the altar. We gather together and we witness God’s grace and then we go. Where? We go back to where we came from. We go back to our lives, to our families, to our homes, our community, to our jobs. We go back and we live as citizens, employers, workers, students. We go right back where God has called us with joy in our hearts a message of good news on our lips.

This would be a really good time to clear up a misconception in the church. I know this is still out there. There is a feeling among Christians that pastors do merit God’s favor more than the ordinary person in the pew. We get a little better seat at the heavenly banquet. God likes us a little bit more. We have greater rewards waiting for us because of the work we do as pastors of churches.

I assure you this is not true. Every single called and ordained servant of the Word is a sinner who has no hope apart from God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In fact, I would contend — and you can disagree with me if you want — that your vocation is more significant than mine. Let me ask you some questions. Do you believe we need Christians in the schools teaching our children? Do you believe we need Christians in government, making, enforcing and interpreting laws? Do you believe we need good Christian doctors operating on us in the hospital and taking care of us when we are recovering? Do we believe we need Christians in the military protecting our freedoms and in the local police department taking care of our communities? Do we need good Christians building houses, remodeling homes? Do we need Christians preparing and serving food and brewing coffee? Do we need Christians in every walk of life? Absolutely.

I’m not doing those things. You are! When God said let there be light, he meant his light would shine into every dark corner of this world. I’m not the one who’s out there. You are.

I’m going to end this morning with some song lyrics. it’s from Matthew West’s song “I sent you.”

 

I woke up this morning Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”