I’m Ready

Joseph and Mary were faithful parents in raising Jesus. St. Luke writes, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived” (Luke 2:21). By this means Jesus would become a child of Israel. God entered a covenant relationship with the child, which reveals that circumcision, though performed by a human, was God’s act.

Luke continues by telling us, “When the time of the purification according to the Law of Moses had taken place, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord” (Luke 2:22). One month after the first son was born, he was presented to the Lord. In this ceremony the parents made an offering, which symbolized buying back from God the child He had created.

Now let your mind go back to this day when Joseph and Mary were walking through the temple courts, and they met an elderly man named Simeon. Simeon was a righteous man who made his trip regularly to the temple. The Lord had promised him that he would not die until he had met the Messiah. On this day he felt led to the temple. It was then that Simeon met Jesus and His parents. Simeon took the babe in his arms and praised God saying,

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the light of all people.

A light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).

Simeon had met the Christ and confessed to the Lord, “I am ready to die, for all is well.”

This was just one more experience for Joseph and Mary to ponder as God was revealing to them that Jesus was no ordinary child.

The words of Simeon are known as the Nunc Dimitis in the liturgy, which is used in some orders of worship. It has great meaning in my life for our congregation sang these words as a closing to our evening service each Sunday evening. It left a thought not to be taken lightly. We were beginning a new week. With Christ we could face the temptation of life and remain true to Him. If this were the last week on earth, we were ready to meet Him in death. Yes, the song placed this thought in my mind: Am I ready? It is this thought that I bring to you in the sermon today.

Simeon held the Christ; now the Christ holds us. In this relationship we can sing Fanny Crosby’s famous song, “Safe in the arms of Jesus.” With Him holding us, we can sing with St. Paul, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). I am ready to die. I may not want to go now, but if this is to be, then I am ready. What a joy to live with this assurance of salvation.

This is the basis of a question used in some of our evangelism programs that teach people how to share their faith with those who do not know Jesus as their Savior. The question is, “Have you come to this place in your spiritual life where you know for sure that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?” A few of them would say, “Yes, I trust Jesus as my Savior and Lord.” The majority would answer, “I hope so, but I don’t know if I have lived a good enough life.”

Old Simeon teaches that if we have met the Christ and trust Him as our Savior, we are ready to die, because we are on our way to heaven.

Simeon ministered to Mary and Joseph. They did not fully understand his worlds at the time, but as the years passed you can be sure that Jesus’ mother recalled what the old man said. “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

When Mary heard the cruel remarks spoken by many to her son, or when she stood beneath His cross watching Him die, then she knew what Simeon meant when he said, “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” On the other hand, some of Jesus’ promises also sounded familiar in her soul. Imagine when, on that Easter morning, she learned that He had been raised from the dead how she must have felt. Now it was all coming into focus. She had been the mother of God in the flesh. Surely she had found favor with God. I wonder if, at that point in her life, Mary might have borrowed that line from Simeon’s hymn, Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.

When we ourselves are ready to meet Jesus, we have a message to bring to others. First it is with our children. Mary and Joseph are our teachers. You have brought your child to the baptismal font where God entered a covenant relationship with him or her. Now teach your child about the Lord Jesus Christ. Tell them specifically what He has done for you to make you ready to meet him. Then let it move on to others.

This is a good word for those of us who are older. Death draws nigh, and we discuss our illnesses and the afflictions that will ultimately bring the end of our life on earth. What comforting words you have to share with your loved ones, especially when you can tell them why you are ready. Sure, reminisce with them. Have fun with the memories. Then, when the conversation ends, let them know that your prayer is the prayer of Simeon: Lord, I am ready. You can come and get me anytime.

What a wonderful way to end the old year. What a peace to bring into the new year. All is well! Praise God!

Prince of Peace

Whether we knows it or not, the human being longs for inner peace more than anything else. That being the case, the Christmas Gospel should be of interest to us, because it is this wonderful message that brings this peace. In our Advent sermons, we have talked about Jesus as the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and today as the Prince of Peace. This was the message the angels brought to the shepherds when they sang,

“Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace to men

on whom his favor rests.”

Thirty-three years later, when Jesus was about to die, He said to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

We receive many offers from the world offering peace, but at its best it is superficial. Our culture talks much about the power of positive thinking, and what they have to say is partially correct. Don’t you feel much better when you have a positive rather than a negative attitude? However, positive thinking has its limitations. Not long ago, I sang these words with about seventy-five other Rotarians after our luncheon:

“Smile and the world smiles with you; sing a song.

Don’t be weary, just be cheery all day long.

Whenever your trials, your troubles and your cares

seem to be more than you can really bear,

smile and the world smiles with you.

Sing a song.”

It is a fun song to sing, but the thought is very superficial. It is simply not true. However, it is a favorite song in our club, and the men sing it well. It talks about something that all of us want Ð namely peace.

The marketing people do an excellent job of selling us on the idea that things will bring us peace. This too is partially true. I am very happy with my new microwave oven. It is so much faster and more efficient than the old microwave we had for many years. I have peace in knowing that my baked potato will be done just right if I push the right buttons. My mother never saw a microwave, but she was a happy person. Was she robbed of peace? These conveniences certainly help, and we are thankful for them, but they are not our source for peace.

There are the people who sell us services. They add something to our lives. I think of the insurance sales agent who convinced me to buy term insurance when our three children were little. “Just think how difficult it would be for your wife if you should die, and then she had to go to work to put food on the table for those children,” he said. “Term insurance, where you get the most protection for the dollar, will bring you that peace.” Boy, I didn’t let him out of the door. It sounded so good to know that my wife could stay home with those children for two years after my death. With the policy in hand, my family had security.

Now the sales agent is telling me that I need long term insurance rather than term insurance. They tell me that it can cost up to $5,000 for one month’s care in a nursing home. If both my wife and I should land in the nursing home at the same time, it would be $10,000. It would not take long before we would be wards of the state. “Yes, sir! Give me some long term insurance.” I bought it. We have it and it has purchased us some peace, but it is not the peace that passes all understanding. That comes when my soul is at rest.

God knows we long for peace. You may wonder how He knows that. The answer is clear from the Bible. He came to this world in the person of Jesus Christ. He walked among us, and he listened to the cries of disturbed people. In the carpenter shop at Nazareth, before He began his ministry, Jesus saw how restless people were. In his home, He knew that his mother and father had difficult moments and longed for peace. Jesus walked where we have walked. He knew what it was to be hungry and tired. He knew what it was to face death. His soul was disturbed in the Garden of Gethsemane, only hours away from his execution. His words were, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow.”

Knowing this, Jesus is anxious to bring us a peace that the world cannot give us. It is a peace that speaks to our inner turmoil. He takes away the uncertainty of the future by saying, “I am with you.”

This peace comes to us through a historical event. God came to this world. He was born in a manger, lived among us for thirty-three years, died on a cross, was raised, and won the victory over our last enemy Ð namely death. He offers us forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

When I receive this Christ, I am restored into fellowship with God. He is my father forever. No matter how terrible life can be, and it can be terrible, underneath the suffering there is an unexplainable peace. There may be times when we are afraid. There is the terminal illness and the fear of how we will handle it. Then we hear His quieting voice, “I am with you.”

Thank God for all the good things this world offers that makes life so much more fun and brings peace, but also helps us realize that it is only when we have laid hold of Jesus Christ that there is an inner peace that is always with us, even in our darkest hours.

Everlasting Father

What are your Christmas plans? That is a familiar question for this time of the year. Your belief regarding the Christmas message shapes your answer to this question. Let us look at the first answer.

This person says, “It’s a wonderful time of the year to be with family and friends. There’s so much going on. Guests are coming, or we will be traveling. We have parties with unique foods available only at Christmas, gifts, Santa and Rudolph, lights and decorations. The list continues.”

Andy Rooney would agree that Christmas is an enjoyable time of the year. He likes Christmas, but he does not like Easter. At least that is what he said on Sixty Minutes. He did not say why he did not like Easter, but his remark caught my attention.

While our family loves Christmas, we believe that Easter is the number one holiday of the year. Without Easter we have no message of the resurrection, and if Christ had not been raised, we have no Savior. Maybe this is the reason Mr. Rooney prefers Christmas to Easter. It is possible to immerse oneself so much in the secular at Christmas that the religious message is lost, and many do just that.

However, there is a second answer. Many would say, “I love Christmas and the reliving of meaningful traditions.” It is a time when people make special efforts to be together. It is a great holiday for children. Those little ones can hardly wait to get at the presents under the tree. They rush down the stairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa left them. In some homes the children have grown up and have their own families, but still find their stockings hanging by the fireplace when they come to their parental homes.

The Christmas card tradition is very important. We learn from old friends how the past year has treated them. I used to wait until Christmas Day, and then I would gather all the cards and spend whatever time was necessary to read each one.

The food at Christmas brings back traditions. I had a friend whose family always had oyster stew on Christmas Eve. I really felt sorry for him. Oyster stew on Christmas Eve? This was the night to have steak. That was our tradition.

Nevertheless, this person hurries on to say that a part of the family traditions is to read the Christmas Gospel. He admits that it is perhaps the only time of the year when the family opens the Bible. There is the singing of the carols, and then it is important to attend the Christmas Eve worship service. Hearing the Christmas Gospel is important, and the pastor had better be well prepared. This is the one time when the sermon must focus on Jesus and His coming to be our Savior.

If you stopped this person and asked him or her, “Have you received Jesus as your Savior?” and “Do you live in a personal relationship with Him?” what kind of answer would you get? Many would say, “I would love to believe this Gospel today as I did when I was ten years old. However, the years can do something to us.”

Intellectually we might question if the birth took place as it did. “Jesus was a great man, but was he God who had come to earth?” You would like to believe that Jesus is the way to heaven, but now you wonder if there is a heaven. In other words, you live as a Christian in words and identify with the Church, but Christ is hardly the center of your life.

Thank God there is a third answer. You who believe in a personal relationship with God say, “Yes, we are going to have a great Christmas. You bet! We are looking forward to being with our family and friends. We enjoy those parties, love the food, get excited about the gifts, and enjoy the lights and decorations. Christmas is all of that. Still, there is so much more!”

In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, this babe is the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, and the EVERLASTING FATHER, which is the emphasis of this Advent sermon. This we call this the incarnation, when God became man. He was tempted as we are. He suffered as all humans do to a greater or lesser degree. However, He died as a payment for our sins. This takes away our guilt and restores us into a relationship with God.

What does all of this tell us? Yes, He is a babe, but much more. He invites us to cast our cares on Him. He watches over us and assures us there is a place in the heavenly home for us. He is the everlasting God who loves us so much we can pray from childhood to the grave:

“Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask you to stay

Close by me forever and love me, I pray.

Bless all the dear children in your tender care

And fit us for heaven to live with you there.”

“O dearest Jesus, holy child,

Prepare a bed, soft, undefiled,

A holy shrine within my heart,

That you and I need never part.”

Mighty God

When you look at the manger scene, what thoughts do you have? Here are a few answers:

¥ To be honest, I don’t give the nativity much thought.

¥ It was not a very nice place to give birth to a child.

¥ There lies one of the greatest men ever born.

¥ This is God who has come to earth.

These responses affirm there is much disagreement about who this child is. In fact, as the first answer infers, many do not give Jesus a second thought. This sermon is prepared for those who are willing to think seriously about the Church’s proclamation of the Christmas Gospel.

The prophet Isaiah says, “He will be called Mighty God.” He also tells us, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means God with us.”

St. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning . . . Through Him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made . . . The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

Then Jesus grew up and said, “I and the Father are one. He who has seen me has seen the Father.”

As the person of Christ was discussed through the years, some questioned the Scriptures’ presentation of Jesus. The early Church taught that Jesus as part of the Trinity. God is one, but He revealed Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then along came a theologian named Arius (250 – 336). He taught that Jesus was divine but not equal with God. He believed there was a real difference between God the Father and Jesus, who is God the Son. Only God the Father is a divine being. We are to worship Jesus without recognizing Him as God.

Eventually Arius was excommunicated for teaching this heresy. He was sent into exile, but Arius did not go easily. His followers remained behind and continued to proclaim this heresy. Soon the Emperor Constantine, a new convert to Christianity, gathered 300 bishops in the city of Nicea to write a summary of what Christianity is. We are discussing this statement today: Who is Jesus?

When the theologians had completed their document, they presented it to the emperor, and from that time on it was known as the Nicean Creed. Many are acquainted with this creedal statement, for it was used as a part of our liturgical service, especially when the congregation is celebrating communion. Following is one part of the creed:

We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten , not made; of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made for us and for our salvation. He came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”

As a historic creed of the Church, this is a summary of what Scripture teaches.

Supposedly this creed was to end the debate of who Jesus was. However, Arius was not done, and soon his followers continued to reduce Jesus to less than the Bible presents Him as being. This debate continues in our day. For that reason the content of this creed needs to be taught in our day when people are not sure about their belief concerning Jesus and how He compares with Mohammed or one of the other religious leaders of history.

Having stressed the importance of teaching the contents of this creed, we must accept the fact that we will never realize the importance of this message through classroom study. It is only after I have met Christ and receive Him in faith as my Savior that the creedal statement becomes precious to me.

Now, let’s leave the creedal statement and observe how the Biblical characters found their strength in knowing Christ as the Mighty God.

Peter writes, “If anyone serves, he should do so with the strength God provides (I Peter 4:11). Without a doubt Peter was tempted to compromise the Gospel for a message that would have been more acceptable to his culture many times. Yet this could not be. It was in the hours of these temptations that Jesus, the Mighty God, gave the Apostle strength to be faithful. This strength Christ gives to us also.

When death draws near, and fears capture our soul regarding what lies ahead, we are comforted by the promises of the God incarnate, Jesus our Lord, who said, “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come again and receive you that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-6).

When we are tormented with the thought of being a failure as God’s servant, we can learn how others handle their hours of depression. The psalmist helps us when he says, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:6). This God, who lifts us up, is Jesus, the babe of the manger. I am inadequate, but the God incarnate says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). Those were words He gave to Isaiah long before he lay in the manger at Bethlehem.

Just remember. Jesus is God. That is what separates Him from other religious leaders. Never reduce Him to just a human being. He is far more.