Weekly sermon synopsis and sermon text
The fourth and final advent theme we consider this year concerns Mary, Jesus’ mother. I’ve decided to go with how the Lutheran Confessions refer to her as ‘Mary the Mother God’ (it’s in the book of Concord).* It might surprise you the Lutheran writings refer to Mary this way. After all, we don’t pray to Mary as we know we can go directly to Jesus (1 John 2:1; Mark 15:38). We don’t have statues of her… they were seen as at best a distraction to where our focus needs to be. So isn’t Mary the mother of God way over the top? Not if you want to make the point in the strongest possible way that Jesus is both true man and true God, and so that if we want to be assured that God really is for us, then we need look no further than what we hear and see of Jesus: living, dying and rising for us. Also here in this place today as all of God as we receive him in the body and blood of the bread and wine at the Lord’s Supper. It’s always a good time to remember this; no less so than when we remember God coming in human form in the the infant Jesus at Christmas: ‘conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary’.
*Specifically, paragraph 12 of Epitome, Article VIII, Person of Christ in the Formula of Concord in the Book of Concord or ‘Epit 8, 12’ for the purists!
In today’s Gospel John the Baptist wonders, in effect, if Jesus is really THE Messiah. This is certainly a surprise. Did John the Baptist not leap in his mother’s womb when Mary the mother of Jesus came near? (Luke 1:41). And in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist testifies he is the Messiah and ends prophetically with these words: ’He must increase; I must decrease’ (see John 3:30 within the larger context of John 3:23-30 and John 1:19-37). Part of this might be the different emphasis and witnesses of each Gospel writer. We don’t have to explain it or reason it though in the sense that, regardless, it’s of insurmountable worth simply to focus on Jesus’ answer to John’s question about his Messianic identity, “Go back and report to John what you see and hear…” (Matthew 11:4). I’ll leave it for you to look up what follows. But in essence, Jesus wants us to know the importance of keeping on looking at what he has done and what he has said. This is how God brings us to a saving faith in Jesus. This is because that is how the Spirit works to bring faith in God (‘For the one whom God has sent speaks words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit’ John 3:34, NIV). So… how do you answer what Jesus has done for you and said to you?
Advent abounds with prophetic words about the promises of God fulfilled through the birth of the Messiah. However, in the church today prophecy can be one of those divisive things. It can be easy to over complicate and even send it into a sort of Gnostic secret knowledge world, or judge people about a lack of faith. Ever happened to you? St Paul cuts through all this in the New Testament book 1 Corinthians. In verse 3 of chapter fourteen he offers this very helpful little definition: ‘But the one who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouraging and comfort’ (NIV). It’s about the Holy Spirit bringing the work and benefits of Christ to us. Apart from hearing this, today we’ll also receive them.
this week is somewhat of a ‘Part 2’ to last week’s sermon. There we looked at our tendency to join with the Pharisee in ‘looking down on others’ (Luke 18:9). We thanked God for his deep grace in forgiving us for this – our own grace moment in this parable as we reflected on those times when we are just like the Pharisee and blissfully unaware of our condemnation of others. But as I wrote that sermon last week I was struck by this sort of question: What about God’s standards/laws/commands? Some of the ‘looking down’ is an unfortunate extension of the fact God has made known his ‘way’ to us and we can’t help but see the departures from that all around us. Yes – we are not asked to look down (the unfortunate extension), but we are to delight/know/live by his standards. Such a dedication and joy to his law is a large part of what the longest Psalm in Scripture, Psalm 119, is all about. Today therefore we will take a look at the assigned Psalm, Psalm 119:137-144 (NOT all 176 verses) with a view to hearing of some practical and loving ways to delight in the law of the Lord for the sake of his mission.
On October 30 it’s 502 years since Luther posted his 95 theses which started all the ‘trouble’ with the church of Rome that eventually led to what is commonly known as the European Reformation of the Church (or Reformation for short, especially if you are Lutheran!). The depth and assurance of God’s grace was a fundamental insight that emerged from the Reformer’s work at this time. It’s through the lens of God’s deep and assured grace that I will take a look at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14). In particular, it’s more our tendency to ‘look down on everybody else’ that illustrates grace arguably more than the mercy extended to the tax collector. We certainly know how to confess our sin (the tax collector). And we certainly know (although maybe not really always?) that we can have no confidence in our works. But what about as Christians inside the church when we look down on others for the myriad of reasons we do? Yes – even us – receive the grace of God as we confess it and trust God’s promises.