Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 10, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Prep Time)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Mark 1:1-3
The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! The cradle and the cross come together to offer forgiveness to all who believe. By the Holy Spirit's power may we prepare for the coming of the Redeemer, the Rescuer whose life was given to grant us forgiveness and an abundant life. God grant it be so. Amen.
It was in the early 1900s that Minnie Untermeyer, wife of the wealthy lawyer Samuel, was "doing Europe." That's what people of class did back then. They took a few months out of their hectic schedules and "did Europe." Most certainly they took in the famous sights, but equally true, they went shopping. That's shopping with a capital dollar sign. Minnie was no different. Somewhere in her wanderings she came across an antique tapestry, a wall-hanging which took her fancy. She inquired and found out the wall-rug was a Goebel's tapestry and the asking price was $25,000. Now remember, this is more that 100 years ago and $25,000 back then was a whole lot more than it is today.
Truth be told, that $25,000 was so steep Minnie hesitated and then decided to consult her husband and ask his advice about buying the rug. She told him $25,000, and he told her, well, I've got the text of his cable right here. He wrote, "No! Price too high." To his surprise, Minnie didn't argue. Eventually, she finished doing Europe and Minnie returned home to a warm welcome from her husband. At least the welcome started out warmly. The temperature cooled considerably when Samuel spotted the Goebel's tapestry. Coldly, he asked, "Why did you buy that rug? Why didn't you follow my orders?"
To that charge Minnie smiled sweetly and said, "But dear, I did follow your orders. I did exactly what your telegram said I should do." Samuel asked to see to see the telegram and, sure enough, his wife was telling the truth. Samuel's original message had said, "No! (exclamation mark, new sentence). Price too high!" The telegram Minnie received was different. The telegrapher had taken out the exclamation marks-rather than reading, "No! Price too high!", the message said, "No price too high."
My friends, if you understand that story, you also understand Christmas, the festival which the Christian world will celebrate in just two weeks. You know, if you and I were God, and we had to decide if we wanted to save sinful, disobedient humankind, we probably would, like Mr. Untermeyer, say, "No! Price too high." In contrast, when our Heavenly Father surveyed this sin-saturated world and His wandering, runaway children, He was moved by grace and mercy. Rather than saying, "No! Price too high!", He made a promise which put into place the plan that would send His Son into this world to rescue us. That plan said no price was too high to grant us forgiveness and life eternal.
And so it was. At God's time, He sent the Rescuer. Understand, the Lord didn't send a statesman, a politician, an orator, a great philosopher, a brilliant physician, or the general of an army. He didn't send the Marines, the Navy, Army, Air Force, or National Guard. No, God sent a baby to be our Rescuer. The Rescuer came. His coming was not an accident, not an error, nor, as some would have you believe, a man-made myth. So that the Rescuer might be easy to identify, the Lord gave His people various identifying clues which would point Him out.
For example, the Lord had told Abraham that the Rescuer was to come from the nation He would father. He told Jacob that the scepter would not depart from the tribe of Judah. God revealed to David the Messiah would come out of his house, out of his family. God told the prophet Micah the town where the Rescuer was to be born. That prophecy read, "You, O Bethlehem, who are little among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth the One who is to be Ruler of Israel."
But the Lord didn't just speak about the Rescuer's birth. To the prophet Isaiah, the Lord shared various aspects of the Rescuer's life and death. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah said the Rescuer "would be despised and rejected by men. He would be wounded for our transgressions. He would make Himself an offering for our sins. He would take upon Himself the sins of many." The prophecies which would identify the Rescuer went on and on. The prophets said He would be beaten, but His bones wouldn't be broken. They said He would be crucified with some serious criminals. He would be laughed at, whipped, and be buried in a grave owned by a rich man. So, you see, this Rescuer, whose birth we celebrate, was not a coincidence, happenstance, or an accident. Nor was it by chance that God revealed to Mary, the Child she would bare would be called holy, the Son of God. The angel who delivered the Lord's message said, "You shall call His Name, Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins."
To save us the Rescuer came. Amazingly, after all these years of prophecy, the Rescuer's arrival came without causing much in the way of a ripple in people's lives. The Rescuer was not well-born. His parents were so obscure that but for their Son they would long ago have been forgotten. His parents had no Master Charge clout, no platinum American Express card. At the moment of His birth, the only accommodations His family could obtain in Bethlehem were in a rude stable. During His brief life, He was mostly unrecognized, and almost always misunderstood and maligned.
To save us, the Rescuer came. He grew up in Nazareth, a second-rate community and lived out His days in a country which the Roman rulers considered to be disobedient, disrespectful, and difficult. By most human measures of greatness, the Rescuer never did anything of outstanding significance. He had little formal education, accumulated no fortune, and even worse, didn't seem to care. He never won an Olympic medal, a Nobel Prize, an Academy Award, or a Pulitzer for something He had written. He never pioneered a medical breakthrough, never eradicated a disease, never forged peace between warring nations, and never was a brilliant tactician leading armies from one victory to another.
His associates and friends were ignorant, insignificant people with no political power and less social influence. With one of His hand-picked friends betraying Him to His enemies, another denying His acquaintance and all the rest deserting Him, the best that could be said about His compatriots was their loyalty was questionable. His death was orchestrated by a unique combination of political and religious powers, and His execution took place with criminals whose names have been forgotten by history.
The Rescuer came to save us, and this is prep time-the time of year many of us remember His coming which changes our present world and our eternity as well. My friends, I do not know much about your life. I don't know all of your joys and sorrows, your happy times or your sadnesses. That being said, I do know you have lived through times of loneliness, when hope and help from everyone, including God, seemed far away or even non-existent. There probably are times when you have tried to squint into the future and found things out of focus and unclear. You would be a most unusual person if you didn't find those unknowns to be disconcerting and disquieting.
But, if you refocus your gaze and look upon Bethlehem of 2,000 years ago, if you let yourself be led by the star, if you hear the angels speak about God's good news of great joy, you will clearly see that you are not alone, or lost, or forgotten. Go to the stable and look into the manger, where you will see God's Son who can forgive every wrongdoing you have committed and rescue your soul from eternal destruction. Look and see that Child wrapped in swaddling cloths, and know the Rescuer has come to save you. God no longer is remotely distant. He is here, as one of us, to rescue us-from ourselves.
The Rescuer has come to save us-"not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." That's the way Mark said it. His words mean that the Rescuer was born in Bethlehem for only a single-minded purpose. The Rescuer was born to live for you and then to die; He was born to give up His earthly life so that we might have eternal life.
Jesus, God's Son, came to earth and gave Himself as the heaven-sent, one-time payment which would save us from our sins and, for those who are given salvation, would save their souls. Elsewhere in Scripture, Paul beautifully summed up the plan, the prophecy, and the process of fulfillment when He wrote: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons."
The Rescuer has come to save us. The question is, "How will you use your prep time? How will you welcome Him?" There are a number of ways you can go. One way of welcoming Him is to do it as a Christmasaholic. Christmasaholic may be a new term to you as it is a condition not recognized by the American Medical Association. And to the best of my knowledge, there are no self-help groups for those who have slipped into Christmasaholicism. Nevertheless, the problem is real, and it is possible that you, or someone who is dear to you may have the malady. How can you know? Well if any of these seem familiar to you, there is a fair chance you may be a Christmasaholic. We begin ...
You might be a Christmasaholic if you take down your live Charismas tree only after the sheer number of the falling needles has burned out the motor in your vacuum cleaner.
You might be a Christmasaholic if you have a three-drawer file cabinet which holds all movies shown by the Hallmark channel during December.
You might be a Christmasaholic if you can remember where and in what year you got every one of the Christmas ornaments you hang on your tree.
You just might be a Christmasaholic if your workout tape is Burl Ives singing, "Have a Holly Jolly Christmas" 27-times in a row.
You just might be a Christmasaholic if, every time you hear a bell ring, you think to yourself, "Look, daddy, teacher says every time a bell rings another angel gets his pair of wings."
You might be a Christmasaholic if you can name all six of Bob Cratchit's children. And you are a Christmasaholic if you knew that was a trick question as Dickens gave names to only four of Bob's six children.
Finally, you might be a Christmasaholic if you wish the "Twelve Days of Christmas" song had another week's worth of stanzas.
Now you should know, Christmasaholics have a lot of fun and they are a joy to be around. On the other hand, if you look at the list, there is nothing which specifically points to the Rescuer. There is nothing wrong with being a Christmasaholic, as long as the spirit of the holiday doesn't push aside the Person of that holy day. There is nothing wrong, as long as the Rescuer doesn't get buried somewhere under the parties, the preparations and the presents, the tinsel, the trappings, and the brightly colored wrappings.
But, as I said, there are other ways of preparing for the remembrance of the Rescuer. More and more folks I see have an affinity with Scrooge, and have adopted the Grinch as the poster boy for their Christmas celebration... or should I say lack of celebration. For them, the whole prep time is a giant inconvenience. Full shopping malls and fuller parking lots make their blood pressure soar. A plethora of parties have them searching for any excuse which they haven't used in the last three years. And they have to use every drop of self-control not to "Bah Humbug!" anyone who wishes them a joyful "Merry Christmas." With apologies to Dr. Seuss, it's possible, like the Grinch "They hate Christmas, the whole Christmas season! And please don't ask why, I don't know the reason. It could be, perhaps, that their shoes are too tight; it might be their heads weren't screwed on just right. No one quite knows the reason. But I think that the most likely reason of all may have been that their heads feel sorry for no sins at all."
All of which takes us to the third way to remember the coming of the Rescuer. To find that method you have to go back in time about 2,000 years, stand on the banks of the Jordan River, and listen to the wild-haired fellow who is clothed in an equally wild camel's hair outfit. Listen to him as he prepares people for the Rescuer by calling people to repentance of their sins. Now to many, the idea of repenting and confessing their sins may seem a terrible way to prepare for Christmas.
And it is, unless ... unless you come to the cradle of the newborn Redeemer. Look at Him, and realize He is in that manger because of you, more accurately because of your sins which He has come to erase. Look at Him, and know He has been born so that He might carry your transgressions and pay the price which will rescue you from eternal damnation. I know, I know that is a gloomy thought. But it's true. Jesus was born so He might die, and thereby save us from never-ending death. If you take that message out of the manger, then there is no purpose for Jesus' coming. Take Christ's cross out of the manger and the only thing which remains is a baby in a bed of straw saying, 'Hello, everybody! Let's remember the shortest day of the year and celebrate winter."
But that is not the way it was. The Rescuer came. From the moment of His birth, God's plan involved His own Son's death and rising again. Look at the Christmas cradle, and see the Good Friday cross. Look at the baby, and see not just helpless baby hands, see also nails yet to come. Look at the beautiful sleeping head, and realize that someday it will be crowned with thorns. The restful face, now in repose, will someday be beaten and spit upon. Look at His feet, and remember that those feet will walk the way of sorrows, dragging and carrying a cross for you. See these things and you will see Christmas. See the shadow of the cross to come, and you will be able to prepare to give thanks to God for the Rescuer and your redemption. Only then can you see why the Rescuer doesn't bring good news of great joy; He is God's good news of great joy who saves our souls.
The Rescuer has come. Last week, searching for a birthday card for my grandson, I overheard a woman looking over the Christmas cards. She remarked to her husband, "It's such a beautiful card, but I just don't like the words." "What's the difference," he replied, "Nobody bothers to read the message anyway." And I suppose, at least for some, that is true. But this day we hear the Baptizer shout God's message which says, "The Rescuer has come to shed His blood to wash away our sins!" For those of you who have not heard him, and do not know his Savior, your Rescuer, I encourage you to take a look at the sins which besmirch your soul, and remember Jesus' coming, from start to finish, was for you. Look into the manger and know that Jesus' presence says, "No price is too high!" Today, once again, John calls, "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, be forgiven, be saved by Jesus."
If that is something you would like, please let us tell you about Him. Call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
This is the full manuscript of the sermon. The audio version maybe edited down for air time allowances.
Reflections for December 10, 2017
Speaker: Dale Meyer
MARK EISCHER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and that was Pastor Ken Klaus. Dr. Dale Meyer joins us now. Pastor Klaus talked about prep time for Christmas. Your thoughts.
DALE MEYER: He gave a good overview of the various ways people approach Christmas. He brought it all together at the end of the message by talking about repentance. Repentance was the message of John the Baptist and is still a key message in Advent, these weeks before Christmas.
MARK EISCHER: How can we make repentance real, and not just go through the motions?
DALE MEYER: We can get so busy that we go through the ritual mindlessly. My suggestion for real repentance is this: think about the thoughts and feelings that are deep down within you, the things hidden deep in you, things secret. I mean the thoughts and feelings that, if people knew them, you'd be so ashamed you would hightail it out of town, never to be seen again, things that make you feel guilty and afraid you'll be exposed. God sees those things and you will be judged for them.
MARK EISCHER: That really doesn't make a person feel better.
DALE MEYER: Right. Repentance is not simply being sorry. Full repentance, as Pastor Klaus said, looks to the baby who comes to rescue us from the sins and darkness deep within us. From the cradle to the cross to resurrection, ascension, and working today to assure us that even though we are so flawed in Jesus we are forgiven. You can do this introspection and look to Jesus even while you're busy with all the other preparations for the holiday. Look deep; then look to Jesus.
MARK EISCHER: Next week on The Lutheran Hour...
DALE MEYER: I plan to talk more about John the Baptist. He had a passion, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. I want to talk with our hearers about their passion in life, and ask, how far will your passion take you? The title will be "Life Narrows Down."
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)