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“Festival of Readings and Carols”

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday in Advent—December 21, 2008

First Reading: Genesis 3:14-15

So the Lord God said to the serpent: “Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Meditation:

This was the first promise God gave to humankind that he would send us a Savior.  Immediately after the fall into sin, the Lord promised that one of Eve’s descendants would crush Satan and defeat him.  This promise was fulfilled by the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  He defeated Satan for you, he made all things right again between you and God, he earned forgiveness for your sins and a place for you in heaven.

Adam and Eve really were the first Christians, because they believed God’s promise to send the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior.  As St. Paul says in Acts, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

Second Reading: Numbers 24:15-17

“The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of one whose eye sees clearly, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, who has knowledge from the Most High, who sees a vision from the Almighty, who falls prostrate, and whose eyes are opened: I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A Star will come out of Jacob; a Scepter will rise out of Israel.”

Meditation:

Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord again and again repeated his promise to send a Savior.  Gradually, he revealed more and more about who the Savior would be, where and how he would come, and how he would accomplish his work of salvation. 

In this oracle, the Lord reveals through Balaam that the Messiah will come at some future time from the people of Israel: “I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A Star will come out of Jacob; a Scepter will rise out of Israel.”  He is a “Star” because he will bring light to our dark world; he is a “Scepter” because he will be the King of kings.

Third Reading: Jeremiah 23:5-6

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In His days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.”

Meditation:

Through the prophet Jeremiah, the Lord proclaims that, according to his human nature, the Messiah will be of David’s family tree: “I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.”  But, he will be more than just a great king, he will be so much more than any earthly ruler: “This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.”  He will be both human and divine, the descendant of David and “The Lord Our Righteousness.” 

Jesus not only wipes clean the slate of your sins; God also credits to you the righteousness, the perfection, the holiness of Christ.  As St. Paul says in Romans, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”  That is why you will enter into heaven, not because of your good works, but because the perfect righteousness of Christ is credited to you through faith in him. “This is the name by which He will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.”

Fourth Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?  Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

Meditation:

The great glory of the ancient Hebrew kings was that someday one of their descendants would be the Messiah, the King of kings.  But, they turned away from the Lord and worshipped other gods.  King Ahaz refuses to seek a sign from the Lord because he does not believe in the Lord’s power or promises.  And so, Isaiah announces, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

Because of their wickedness, the honor of being the Messiah’s physical progenitor is taken away from the Hebrew kings.  The Messiah will indeed be of the royal line of David, but he will miraculously be born of female lineage only: “The Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”  That is who the Babe of Bethlehem is: Immanuel, God-with-us, God in human flesh.

Fifth Reading: Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. . .

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder; and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

Meditation:

Isaiah says the Messiah will be the Prince of Peace.  Because of his coming, you are at peace with God, as St. Paul says in Colossians, “[God made] peace through his blood, shed on the cross,” and in Romans, “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  The Good News of Christmas is, God is not angry with you, God is at peace with you, and you are at peace with God.  God loves you and forgives you, on account of Jesus Christ.  As the angels said the night of his birth, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”  “And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.”

Sixth Reading: Micah 5:2-5

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for Me One who will be Ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.  Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of His brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace.

Meditation:

As we open our Christmas gifts we may be reminded of the adage, “Good things come in small packages.”  The little town of Bethlehem seemed an unlikely place for the Savior to be born.  But, the Lord had promised that the Messiah would be from David’s line, and so through the prophet Micah he announces that the Messiah will be born in the hometown of David, the little town of Bethlehem: “Out of you will come for Me One who will be Ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  Good things come in small packages, and the Lord says long-awaited Messiah will come from the little town of Bethlehem.

Just as the little town of Bethlehem seems an unlikely place for the Savior of the world to be born, so also a little Baby lying in a manger may seem to us an unlikely means for God to save the world.  But, the Lord promises, “He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And He will be their peace.”  Good things come in small packages, and the Redeemer of the world did indeed come into the world as the Babe of Bethlehem.

Seventh Reading: John 1:1-18

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.  In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.  The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness did not comprehend it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  The true Light which gives light to every man was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.  He came unto His own, and His own received Him not.  But as many as received Him, to those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God-children born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”  And of His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.  For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.  No one has ever seen God, but God, the only-begotten Son, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.

Meditation:

The Second Person of the Trinity has many different names and titles.  We know him most commonly and simply as “Jesus Christ.”  Some of his other names and titles include “Son of God;” “Son of Man;” “Messiah;” “Savior;” “Lord;” “King of Kings.”  In the first chapter of St. John’s Gospel the phrase “the Word” is used as a title for Second Person of the Trinity:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory.”

That is what we celebrate at Christmas: “The Word,” Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity, becoming flesh, born as the child of the Virgin Mary nearly 2,000 years ago in the little town of Bethlehem. 

But the phrase “the Word became flesh” also has another meaning for us.  For, God not only says that he loves you, he literally puts his “Word” into action, by sending his Son to be your Savior.  “This is how God showed his love for us,” St. John writes in his First Epistle. “He sent his only-begotten Son in the world that we would have life through him.  He loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Amen.

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