Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
December 9, 2018
The Christmas season started over a month before the first day of Christmas this year, way back on November 23rd as Black Friday inaugurated the Christmas rush. Christmas songs have already been playing on the radio for nearly three weeks now, and before the turkey was cleared out of most people’s refrigerators, “Merry Christmas” became the customary greeting. The season of Advent has been completely forgotten. And I’m not just bothered that Christmas is being celebrated at the wrong time. We should rejoice at Jesus’ birth all year round! That God became a little baby for us in order to save us is a wonder at which we should never tire of marveling.
But that’s not even what’s happening. We don’t have a premature celebration of Christmas, but a month-long caricature of the Christmas season. The Christmas Spirit has been replaced with materialism. And I’m not just complaining like Charlie Brown that everyone’s gone commercial. There is something much more sinister going on. This fake Christmas season is exactly what Jesus warns us against in our Gospel lesson, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.”
Advent is about the coming of Christ. Today we heed Jesus’ words to be prepared for his second coming in judgment. Yet, in the name of Christmas nearly everyone is doing the exact opposite. Instead of watching for the coming of Christ, we are overwhelmed by the cares and pleasures of this life. Jesus warns us against being weighed down with dissipation; that is dizziness, staggering like someone who is drunk or hungover. And that is how so many of us are as we rush to get everything done. And literal drunkenness has become customary in the new-Christmas season with drinking parties that only intensify feelings of anxiety and depression. We are so weighed down by the cares of this life, the coming of the Lord certainly could fall upon us like a trap. In fact, the Lord wouldn’t need such stealth. Indeed, this new-Christmas season is a time of cultivating thorn bushes to choke out the word of God from our hearts.
And it’s not even that enjoyable. Recent polls find that 88% of Americans find the holidays stressful. This makes sense with all the rushing around buying gifts they can’t afford, traveling distances they don’t have time to travel to visit family and friends and rushing back before they can relax. Something like a quarter of consumers still haven’t paid off their bills from last Christmas. And people even find visiting their loved ones stressful. And half of those polled say that religion is a topic to avoid over the holidays with family and friends! Imagine that! Don’t talk religion when celebrating holy days!
And this really is the center of the problem with this new season of anxiety dressed up with lace and flashing green and red lights: It is all a distraction from getting prepared for the coming of Christ Jesus. And how do you get prepared for Christ’s coming? How do you keep watch? By paying attention to the Holy Scriptures and the preaching of God’s Word.
Yet, for many already weighed down with dissipation and anxiety, the command to pay attention to the Scriptures is yet another stress heaped on the chest. Most pastors feel guilty for not spending as much time as they should reading the Bible, let alone many Bible-believing Christians. You should read your Bible every day. Do you? Does it make you feel guilty that you don’t? Is pointing this out helping to relieve your anxiety during the busiest time of the year? I didn’t think so!
But reading the Scriptures and hearing the preaching of God’s Word should not cause you stress. Listen to the words of St. Paul from our Epistle lesson, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” We find hope through the encouragement of Scripture. What is this hope? Jesus tells us in our Gospel lesson! “Now when all these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
That’s right! When all the world is falling apart, when those in power become powerless and the rich lose everything they have, when nature itself becomes unsettled and the end is near, Jesus tells you that summer has arrived. You are going to be released from the sorrows of this world like a calf leaping and dancing out of its stall. Though the earth go up in flames, you will be cool and collected. This is Christ’s promise. And why will you be so cool, collected, and victorious? Because your redemption is coming near.
What is your redemption? To redeem means to purchase or buyback. All of us were conceived and born slaves of sin, bound to death, and under the dominion of the devil. Yet, Scripture teaches us that we were redeemed from this bondage, not with gold or silver, but with the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19). It was God himself, who set this price. Our sin is an offense against Him. God must be reconciled to us because of our transgressions against him.
Our sin is a corruption of our nature, which God made to be perfect. It’s a behavioral problem. Not only does sin separate us from God and warrant our death, but it is harmful to others. The reason you have anxiety and are overburdened during this stressful time of year is because of your sin. Sin causes you to not trust in God. That means that you take on an unnecessary burden by trusting in yourself. Sin causes you to be selfish. That makes serving others more difficult. Sin makes it difficult to spend time with others and for them to spend time with you, navigating around unsafe and awkward conversations. Sin is not freedom. It is slavery. You are not capable of doing the good that you want to do. Even if your spirit is willing, your flesh is weak. And the wages of sin are death and hell.
You are a sinner. You need to be redeemed from your sins or you will go to hell for all eternity. And Jesus is coming to judge the living and the dead. Yet, Scripture encourages you to have hope, because Christ Jesus has redeemed you from your sin with his precious blood. Hebrews chapter nine states, “So Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.” (9:28)
Scripture is encouraging, because it reveals to you your Savior, Jesus Christ, who has redeemed you from sin, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. To be redeemed means that God has forgiven you. Ephesians 1:7 states, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Forgiveness is the sweetest word in the ear of a sinner. Psalm 32 states, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the one against whom the LORD counts no iniquity.” And this is why the name of Jesus is the sweetest sound in the ears of a Christian, because it is Jesus, who has forgiven us our sins. 1 Timothy 1:15 states, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”
Yes, Scripture calls sin, sin. And Scripture calls you a sinner, even to say that if you deny that you are a sinner, you are a liar and the truth is not in you! (1 John 1:8) Yet, Scripture promises that if you confess your sins, God will graciously forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness through Jesus’ blood (1 John 1:9, 7). And Scripture is trustworthy. St. Paul tells us that it is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16) St. Peter tells us that men of God wrote the Scriptures as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:19-21). St. Paul joins the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures together so closely, that he does not distinguish between the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Scriptures. On the one hand he says “through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” and nine verses later he says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:4, 13) God the Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures to create saving faith and encourage you through that faith your entire life.
The Scriptures are the words of Christ. And by the words of Christ the Holy Spirit creates saving faith in your hearts (Romans 10:17). So, not only should you read the Holy Scriptures and learn them yourself, for your own encouragement, but you should speak these words of Jesus as you gather with your family and friends this holiday season. Don’t be part of that 50%, who avoids talking about religion. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) So, talk about Jesus with your loved ones! Pray with them. Have devotions with them as you gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth! Share with them the words that will prepare you to lift up your head and welcome your Redemption, as he comes to you on the clouds! And invite them to come and hear these sweet words of Jesus.
By truly observing Advent, that is by hearing and believing the holy Scriptures, you not only will enjoy the true meaning of Christmas when it comes, but you will be prepared to enjoy the return of that Christ, who came to us so lowly in the manger. May the words of our dear Savior be in our ears, mouth, and heart until he comes. Come, Lord Jesus. Amen.