Monday, December 11, 2017

The Congregation at Prayer

For the Week of Advent 2 (December 11-16, 2017)

Invocation: In the Name of the Father and of the (+) Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Speak the Apostles’ Creed. 

Verse: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 - “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

Hymn of the Week:  Lutheran Service Book #345 “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding”
Hymns for Wednesday: 359, 375, 389
Hymns for Sunday: 349, 357 (v. 5), 345, 618, 350, 334, 341

Readings for the Week: [The readings for Tuesday-Wednesday are the Scriptures for Wednesday’s Advent Prayer Service. The readings for Thursday-Saturday are the Scriptures for this coming Sunday.]

Monday:  Psalm 126
How is this an Advent psalm, a waiting psalm?

Tuesday:  Exodus 24:15-18
What covered Mt. Sinai? What is it called? Why? What does this teach us about God?

Wednesday:  John 1:14-18
How is God’s glory described here? How is this different than yesterday? Why?

Thursday:  Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
What does God want Isaiah to proclaim? Why? How do we this also today? How do you?

How can we do these things of which Paul speaks? Who is really the one working in us to do them? Why? How?

Saturday:  John 1:6-8, 19-28
What was John? What was his message? Why was he important, and still important for us today?

The Catechism - Baptism: How can water do such great things? [Part 1] Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the water. For without God’s word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, this is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, . . .

The Prayers:  Please pray for . . .
+ yourself and for all in need (remembering especially those on our prayer list).
+ all people to live together in kindness, understanding, forgiveness, and love.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, guidance, and strength for Pastor Douthwaite.
+ the Free Evangelical - Lutheran Synod in South Africa, for God’s blessing, guidance, and provision.
+ God’s blessing, wisdom, and provision for the Lutheran Friends of the Deaf.
Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer and Luther’s Morning or Evening Prayer from the Catechism.

Now joyfully go about your day (or to bed) in good cheer, child of God!

Advent 2 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Comfort in the Wilderness”
Text: Isaiah 40:1-11; Mark 1:1-8; 2 Peter 3:8-14

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

Comfort isn’t something that is normally associated with this time of the year, I don’t think. These weeks before Christmas are better known for joy and excitement for some, and anxiety and weariness for others. Some can’t wait for Christmas to come, and others can’t wait for it to be over. It brings out the best in people - charitable giving usually goes up this time of year. But it also brings out the worst - pickpockets and package thieves on the prowl, looking to take advantage of you. 

So comfort . . . seems strange. Different. Very Adventy. 

And John proclaimed that message of comfort in a most uncomfortable place: the wilderness. A place of wildness and danger. A place isolation and loneliness. A place of desolation and emptiness. A place of thirst, hunger, and where little pebbles get in the bottom of your shoes. Which actually sounds like where many people are today. Even - or especially - these weeks before Christmas. Maybe not where they walk, but in their hearts. But you don’t know it because it’s so easy to overlook or not know. It’s so easy to hide your wilderness when it’s in your heart. Smile and say a few Merry Christmases and nobody knows the wilderness pebbles in the bottom of your heart. Or spend enough money and down a good amount of cheer and maybe even hide it from yourself.

But God knows. As we say in the liturgy of Private Absolution: He is the One to whom all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid. He knows we need comfort. 

I was reminded of that again this week when Laurie and I received a Christmas card from one of our friends in Pennsylvania. I remember thinking how strange it was that we hadn’t received their card yet because it is always - always - the first one we receive - usually right after Thanksgiving. But not this year. And I remember briefly thinking that something must be wrong. 

So we got their card and when I looked at their letter I remarked to Laurie that it was shorter than usual. Our friend couldn’t write much this year she said. She simply wrote that her dear husband had a stroke about one month ago and died two days later. This sudden and unexpectedly loss caused her sadness more than she could write. Yet, she also said, echoing the words of St. Paul: we are sure that to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). That was her comfort. It didn’t make the sadness go away. But it was a voice in her wilderness. A voice of hope. A voice proclaiming that the wilderness is not all there is.

You know, in the beginning, there was no wilderness. God created Paradise, not wilderness. God created peace and harmony, not discord and strife. Fellowship, not loneliness and isolation. Life, not death. That other stuff all came with sin. Sin which takes God’s good creation and twists it into something almost unrecognizable. That takes what God made straight and jumbles it into what seems like a maze with so many twists and turns that it seems like we’ll never get through it. We’ll never find that original joy and life and fellowship God created for us. And just when we think that maybe we have, we turn a corner only to find we’ve hit a dead end, or to find sadness or trial jumping out at us.

The wilderness. That’s where John came preaching. Not because it was the best place to go, but because it was the only place to go, in a world of sin and death.

And it’s where Jesus came too. To do and be what John proclaimed. 

So while some think the appearance of John the Baptist and His message of repentance an unwelcomed intrusion into the joy of Christmas, a downer in these weeks leading up to Christmas - it is actually quite the opposite. John didn’t come into a world all joyous and fine and bring it down - but Christmas is all about Jesus coming into the wilderness we created to raise it up and give us Paradise again. You see, Jesus is the real intruder! Coming to give life to those who die, to give hope to those who mourn, to give healing to those whose hearts have been broken, beaten up, and stomped on by sin. To be the mightier one spoken of by John. The one who would do what John proclaimed. 

And in His death and resurrection He did. For you see the cross? That’s what sin wants to do to you, too. Not just Jesus. It wants to take away all that you have and leave you with nothing. Yet how often do we not even notice? Because we’re so rich, right? We have so much. Wealth and health and more. But it’s all passing away. As Peter told us today - the heavens, the earth, and everything in them will be burned up and dissolved. And then when you die, what will you have? 

Well, in Jesus, you have life. For everyone else who was ever crucified - or who died otherwise, for that matter - death was the end. But not for Jesus. For He is mightier than John and mightier than us, and so in His resurrection left sin and death with nothing. They thought they had Him in their clutches, defeated, conquered, just like everyone else who ever lived - and then He was gone. And sin and death were the ones with nothing, defeated and conquered. 

And with that a widow has comfort when her husband is suddenly taken from her. The comfort of life and resurrection. You have comfort when sin intrudes into your life. The comfort of mercy and forgiveness. You have comfort when all the world seems to be celebrating but your heart feels like a wilderness. The comfort of Jesus. Who comes to just such wildernesses and transforms them. Into places of grace.

Maybe you don’t think you need comforting right now, that you’re in a pretty good place, everything’s going well. If so, thanks be to God. But maybe you’re fooling yourself and have just buried your wilderness deep down in your heart so you don’t have to deal with it. Or maybe you’ve made peace with the wilderness, that it’s just not going to get any better than this so make the best of it. Or even if everything is good now, as our friend found out, who knows what tomorrow will bring? 

So God sends John to keep things straight. To, as we prayed, stir up our hearts a bit, that we not be so comfortable in the wilderness, but find true comfort; a comfort that will last. Comfort in the one who is mightier than sin, mightier than death, mightier than your troubles, mightier than the wilderness. Mighty enough, in fact, to make Himself weak. As weak as a baby. To give you hope.

It is, in fact, when we lose hope that we lose babies too. People saying: I can’t bring a baby into a world like this. But in His usual backward way - or maybe we’re the backwards ones - God said just the opposite: I must bring a baby into a world like this. My Son. Because when you have that baby, and that baby grown up into a man, and that man crucified and dead, and that corpse then risen from the dead - there is always hope. For a world like this. For sinners like us. For whatever troubles or sadness or anxieties or anything else that are stirring in your heart right now. 

So John comes to us again this Advent to point us to that hope; that hope that gives us comfort. For it is not the kind of hope that may or may not come. When John came it was because that hope was being fulfilled. Right there and then. In Jesus. And so for us, now, it is hope that is sure and certain. Hope that is here for you. The Body and Blood of the baby here in this bread and wine. The resurrection of that man here in water and the Word. Words of comfort, that your sins are forgiven, and that the wilderness is not all there is. That, as Peter told us today, according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Where righteousness - not wilderness - dwells. Where everything is right. 

Can you imagine such a place? Certainly we’re not there yet. We’re still in a world of widows and sorrows and rights that are very wrong. But it will not always be so. And so we are waiting, Peter said. Not for Christmas and whatever brief respite it may bring from the wilderness. But for Jesus to return and make everything right again.

And He is. Already He is. Not finally and fully, yet. But already, here, in the strength of His weakness, in the greatness of His littleness, coming and making you right, forgiving your sins, making you His child. That you be a little right in a world of wrong. A little light in a world of darkness. A little comfort and hope for others in the wilderness. Even when you yourself are sad or troubled. Like our friend, who wrote, as she said, with sadness more than she could write. Yet writing words of comfort, of confidence. Pointing to Jesus as our hope.

And you too. In your words and in your life. Not because you’re out of the wilderness of sin, sadness, and death, but because you’re Advent Christians; because you know the one you’re waiting for; because you know His comfort and hope; because you know His promises. So come, Lord Jesus, in our Advent prayer. Come according to Your promise. Come and comfort us. Come and make everything right again. Come, Lord, Jesus. Come for all. Come for me.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Advent 1 Midweek Sermon

[No audio]
Jesu Juva

“When He Comes Again in Glory”
Text: Luke 21:25-28; Ezekiel 39:21-29; Titus 2:11-14

In the Name of Jesus. Amen.

The season of Advent really isn’t about preparing for Christmas. That’s the world’s Advent - or, at least, their November and December. Advent in the Church prepares us for Jesus’ second coming, though Christmas is certainly a part of that. There had to be a first coming so there could be a second coming. There had to be a birth so there could be a death. There had to be a cross so there could be a resurrection - of Jesus and of us. And when Jesus comes again, that is exactly what there will be: resurrection. Of all the dead. Some to everlasting life and some to everlasting death.

And the words that are said during the communion liturgy during the Advent season speak of that. They speak of Jesus’ first coming, but so that we be ready for His second coming. And so we hear:

It is truly meet, right, and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, holy Lord, almighty Father, everlasting God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, whose way John the Baptist prepared, proclaiming Him the promised Messiah, the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world [first coming stuff], and calling sinners to repentance that they [we] might escape from the wrath to be revealed when He comes again in glory [second coming] (Proper Preface for Advent).

Advent is to prepare us for that coming in glory. That we be ready. That there be no wrath, no death, for us; only joy, only glory, only life.

But the question is, I guess, do we need such preparation? Or is this just another sales pitch, like so many we hear during this season. This one just the Church trying to sell us on something, instead of some store or another.

Well, perhaps the reading from Luke tonight can help us with that question. For those words spoke of what that Last Day will be like - when the Son of Man comes with power and great glory. The terror of that day. Distress of nations in perplexity. People fainting with fear and foreboding of what is coming on the world. Sounds like something we might want to be ready and prepared for!

But here’s the line I especially want to draw your attention to, for it is a rather strange one, it seems to me. When Jesus says: Now when these things begin to take place, [youstraighten up and raise your heads.

Really? Back during the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear war was very real, we weren’t told to straighten up and raise your head, but duck and cover! And in the Midwest, when a tornado is on the way, we’re told to get thee into the storm shelter! . . . not straighten up and raise your head. And when the bullets start to fly, get down! not up.

But here, Jesus says, straighten up and raise your head. Because that day only brings terror to those who do not know the Son of Man; to those who do not know that One who is coming in a cloud with power and great glory. For them, that day is Stranger Danger! That One who is coming, who is He? What does He want? What is He doing? And not knowing, there is fear. Fear of His power and glory.

But that is not us. And that’s not how God wants that Last Day to be - one of fear and trembling, of doubt and suspicion. He wants that Day to be a day of joy. Joy for we know the One who is coming and why He is coming and what He wants to do. For He is the One we’ve known all along. Our brother, our Saviour. The mangered one, the crucified one. The one who came to redeem us and is now coming back to take us home with Him. And thus knowing Him, rejoicing to see Him - like we do friends and relatives we haven’t seen for so long at holiday times. We don’t fear them, we love them.

Advent helps us get ready for that Day. Just as John the Baptist helped the people of his day prepare for the first coming of Jesus by preaching repentance so they would rejoice in the One who had come to forgive their sins, so too John helps us prepare today - that we repent of our sins and rejoice in the forgiveness we have. The forgiveness we have as Jesus comes to us now to wash away our sins and make us His own. As Jesus comes to us now that we not cling to the things of this world which are passing away, but hold tight to Him and His life which will never pass away. That when He comes, we be not sad at leaving this world, but rejoice at entering the life and new creation He has prepared for us. Our life with Him.

So maybe to put it this way: Advent would capture the excitement we have in waiting for Christmas, so that we wait for the Last Day with that same excitement. For Jesus is. That Day cannot come soon enough for Him. For on that Day He will get what He wants most of all: you. And you will get Him. Revealed, unwrapped, and a joy unlike any other you’ve ever had. 

And who wouldn’t straighten up and raise their heads for that? Like children on tippy-toes looking for the presents, looking at the lights, looking for the goodies - looking and waiting. Looking and waiting for this day that sometimes seems like it will never come. But it always does. And so will the Last Day. Though it seems so far away and like it will never come, it will. An ending and a beginning. The ending of one world and the beginning of the next. The ending of one life and the beginning of the next.

So until that day, get ready. Repent. Receive the forgiveness of the one who came for you and is coming again for you. Live the new life you have been given. And when that day finally comes, you will be ready. To celebrate not just the 12 days of Christmas, but the glory of God forever.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Advent 1 Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Oh Wait!”
Text: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 11:1-10; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down! So Isaiah writes and Israel hopes. 

Can you imagine what that would look like? What kind of terror that would cause? The sky ripped open and something, someone, from another world coming down to earth? The scenes like that we see in so many movies really happening . . .

But why want God to come like that? To get their adversaries, of course. To pay back the nations around Israel for their sins. To consume them like fire. Make them tremble like they’ve made us tremble! Show ‘em who’s boss. Show them the God they don’t believe in.

But then Isaiah thinks better of it. Oh wait, he says. We’re sinners, too. All our righteous deeds aren’t so righteous at all. In fact, they are like a polluted garment. We don’t pray as we should. We don’t believe and trust as we should. We make our neighbors tremble, too, when we lash out at them. If God came down as fire, that fire would burn us, too. 

So maybe not. So no, don’t rend the heavens. Not yet anyway. Instead, Isaiah says, humbly changing his tune: no, be our Father. We are the clay, you are our potter. Don’t destroy us - help us, shape us, form us. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.

Isaiah’s words are good ones for us to consider today. For when we think like that. When we wish God would smite our adversaries - that kid at school who picked on me, that person at work who took credit for my work, that person who took my parking space even though I’d been waiting for it with my blinker on! Or those lawmakers trying to take away our religious freedom, those infidels beheading Christians, or those liberals who call themselves Christians but are really gutting Christianity of its truth. Get ‘em God! Pay them back, God! Why don’t you wipe them out?

Because, Isaiah is teaching us today, that means He would wipe us out, too. The sins we see in others are the sins that live in us. 

So while the day is coming when God will rend the heavens and come down in judgment, that not really what He wants to do. Do you know that? God doesn’t want to judge. Judging holds no joy for God. Judgment is of the law, but God - though He gave the Law - is not first and foremost about the law. God would rather love and save and forgive and bless. God would rather give gifts, and He does. To all people - life and health and rain and all that we have - even if we don’t realize it. 

No, God gave the Law not so that we would love the Law, but so that we would love Him. So that we would, like Isaiah, realize our sin and turn to Him as our Father, our Saviour.

So instead of rending the heavens and coming down with fire, the Son of God came in our flesh and blood. Instead of riding on the clouds of heaven, He rode into Jerusalem, as we heard, on a young colt, a donkey. And instead of consuming sinners He became the sinner and offered Himself to the consuming fire of His Father’s wrath against sin on the cross. That our iniquity, our sins, not be (as Isaiah prayed) remembered or held against us, but that we get His gifts instead. 

But maybe we’re like Isaiah even here, too, when thinking about the gifts of God. For if Isaiah wanted God to come with a big show and great power, rending the heavens . . . I wonder if that’s how we want our gifts. Big stuff. Impressive stuff. For God to come down and make us win the lottery. For God to come down and give us a church. For God to come down and give us success. For God to come down and give you . . . what? 

But maybe, like Isaiah realized, there’s something else we need before all that; before God rends the heavens and comes down with gifts like that. Maybe we need the humbler gifts first. So that we love not the stuff we want God to give us, but love Him instead. 

Because that’s what often happens, isn’t it? We love the stuff instead. Even the stuff we don’t have yet - that’s why we want it. And even holy stuff, like a church building or a church full of people, can become an idol. Those things aren’t bad, but they can be. They can become idols if we love them or the thought of them more than our Father who gives them. That happened to Old Testament Israel, too. They came to love the Temple more than the God who dwelled in it and the gifts He gave in it.

So maybe we need an Isaiah moment; an “oh wait” moment; an Advent moment. For Advent is about waiting. Waiting for our God to come, and rejoicing in His coming now. Even if it is humbly now. Even if it’s not quite what we want now. Knowing it’s what we need now. Because what we need now is a little forming; a little God’s-hands-on-us-as-a-potter now. To shape us and make us into the people He would have us be. A holy people. A people forgiven and forgiving. Who don’t breathe fire at each other, but serve in flesh and blood instead, riding donkeys, and laying down our lives for each other. To form us into Christians, little Christs, children of our Father in heaven.

The people of Jerusalem needed such an “oh wait” moment, too. When Jesus rode into town that day and they shouted out their Hosannas, spead their cloaks on the road, and waved their palm branches, they weren’t quite thinking of the right kind of kingdom Jesus had come to give them. They were hoping for a big, glorious kingdom, not a humble one. A triumphant one, not a crucified one. That kingdom was coming, is coming, but not yet. They would have to wait for it. They needed another one first. A humbler one first. 

So when Jesus rode that donkey all the way to the cross, their hopes weren’t dashed - they were fulfilled. They just didn’t know it yet. They didn’t yet know that this humbler gift was actually a greater gift. And His kingdom a greater kingdom. For a kingdom here and now might be great, but it wouldn’t last. The old Israel didn’t last, and a new one wouldn’t either. But a heavenly one will. And wealth here won’t last; but there is wealth that doesn’t perish, spoil, or fade. And life here will come to an end; but there is a life that won’t. So you tell me - which is the greater gift? 

So, “oh wait” . . . maybe what I want isn’t good at all; maybe what I have is. Maybe these gifts here, though rather humble looking, are actually greater. Words that don’t glorify me but tell of the glory of God. Gifts that don’t make me richer here but give me life instead. A meal that doesn’t fill my stomach but fills my soul with the Body and Blood of God Himself; and that doesn’t wipe out my enemies but wipes out my sins instead. 

“Oh wait” - here is God for me. Here is God for me. Here is God for me. Just what I need. All that I need. 

And it really is - all that you need. Paul wrote that to the Corinthians in the words that we heard today. Because they didn’t believe it either. Because we need more, we need something greater, bigger, better, impressive . . . 

But no, Paul said. You are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. You have all that you need. As you wait. As you wait for the revealing. As you wait for God to rend the heavens and come down on the Last Day. What we have may look humble - as humble as a birth in a manger, as humble as a man riding a donkey - but it is not so humble as it looks. The glory is there, the power is there, God is there, just hidden. Hidden for us. So that we not tremble, but rejoice in His coming. 

And we do, now, repenting of our sins and receiving Him in these humble means of His grace. We rejoice.

And we will, too, on the Last Day, when our bodies will be raised from death - unless He comes sooner than that. But there will be joy that day too for us. For we know the One who is coming on that day. He is our Father, our Saviour, our brother. He is our forgiver, our sanctifier, the One with scars on His hands, feet, and side. On that day there will be no more “oh wait” - only come. Come now, into the kingdom, into the glory, I have prepared for you. Come now into the joy that has no end.

So we prayed: Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance (Collect of the Day). Oh wait . . . He did. He is. And He will.

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Last Sunday of the Church year Sermon

Jesu Juva

“Come, our David! Come, Good Shepherd!
Come, Lord Jesus!”
Text: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Matthew 25:31-46

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land.

How good the words of the prophet Ezekiel must have sounded to the people of Israel. For they had been scattered. Babylon had come in and trampled them and their country. The Temple had been destroyed, Jerusalem burned to the ground, and its walls lay in ruins. And the people? A few had been left behind, some had fled to Egypt, but many had been taken as prisoners to Babylon. It was, as Ezekiel said, a time of clouds and thick darkness for the people. A time when it seemed as if God didn’t see and didn’t care. That God had forsaken them.

And while Babylon may have been home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it was not a place Israel wanted to be. It was a strange land, with a strange culture, a strange language, and strange gods. They were like fish out of water there. It was uncomfortable. Maybe they were even repulsed by what they saw.

Maybe like you. For maybe your life has gone places this year you didn’t want it to go. Or maybe it didn’t go where you hoped. Maybe looking around at our society, at our culture, you feel more and more uncomfortable with the way things are going . . .

For example, some of you are old enough to remember a time when the culture was not so opposed to the Christian truth and when Biblical stories were more broadly known. It wasn’t too long ago when the only pronouns we needed were “he” and “she” and gay meant happy. And who thought we’d see the day when Nativity Scenes and saying Merry Christmas could be considered hate speech. It is more and more a strange and uncomfortable land we are living in. Not because we have been taken to Babylon; but because Babylon has come to us.

It was actually started that way for Israel, too, at first. For long before they had been taken to Babylon, Babylon had come to them. But instead of resisting, Israel began to adopt the ways and even the gods of the people around them instead of remaining steadfast in the biblical truth. So God caused His people to be conquered and hauled off. He didn’t just allow it, He caused it. Divine discipline. That a drastic change in their world and life would help them see the change that had crept into their own lives as well.

And again, us too. While we may bemoan the fact that the church doesn’t have more influence in our culture, we should ask why it doesn’t have more influence in our own lives. While we criticize the immorality of the culture, we should ask why we have grown so indifferent to sexual activity outside of marriage, easy divorce, hyper-sexualized movies, TV, and internet, and if we have capitulated to the rejection of how God created us male and female. We wonder why the Bible has been banished from the public square without even realizing how we have perhaps banished it in our own lives - how little we ourselves read it and know it. And while it is sometimes said we are living in a godless society, that’s not true - we are living in a society filled with gods. False ones. Living in our hearts, too. All those people and things we put before God. All those people and things we fear, love, and trust more than Him. 

Do you see it? How Babylon has not only come to us but lives in us.

So it really wouldn’t do much good to just bring a corrupt Israel back, would it? To take them out of Babylon. They needed to have Babylon taken out of them. And so 70 years you will live there, God said. The gods you want will be the gods you have. The life you want will be the life you have. So they would realize: this life, these gods, are not good at all, before it was too late. So they would repent. Us too.

For the day is coming, Ezekiel said, when God will come and search for His sheep. Wherever they are, He will find them, for He knows them. They were banished but not forsaken. Disciplined but not hated. And He will rescue them. He will gather them, feed them, tend to them and strengthen them, and give them rest. Good pasture under a Good Shepherd. My servant David, Ezekiel says, shall do it.

Now certainly these are good and hopeful words! But the mention of David makes them even moreso. For David and his son Solomon reigned when Israel was at its largest, strongest, wealthiest, and most glorious. It sounds like God is going to bring back the glory days of Israel! 

But not quite. You see, when Ezekiel proclaimed these words, David had been dead and buried some 400 years already. No, this David was going to be a different David, His kingdom a different kind of kingdom, and His glory a different kind of glory. If you were looking for and expecting the old kind of kingdom, re-glorified, you’d be disappointed. This was going to be new. All new. A new king and a new kingdom, a new heavens and a new earth, for people made new, too. A rescue from both the Babylon without and the Babylon within

And while Israel was brought back from their Babylon after 70 years, that was not primarily the rescue Ezekiel was talking about. The rescue He was talking about, under the David he was talking about, our David, the Son of David, came later. When this promised one was born in the city of David, which you know as Bethlehem. That Babylon live in us no more, but than He live in us. He and His Spirit of life. Depart, unclean spirit, and make way for the Holy Spirit, we say in our Baptismal liturgy, and we pray as we confess our sins.

And He did - this Good Shepherd came into this old kingdom to create a new one. He came into our captivity to free us from it. He fought our sin, death, and hell, let Babylon have its way with Him, and laid down His life for us. That there be not just a new kingdom, but a new you, crucified and risen with your Saviour, with a new and clean heart, and a new spirit. That though I may still live in Babylon, Babylon no longer live in me.

And He is still coming, rescuing still, our David. He knows the influence of Babylon is strong, and the evil one persistent. That still today we are bombarded with false gods and false truths and false goods every day, seeking to change the way we think, the way we act, and the way we worship. The evil one still tempting, and all the more as the time grows short, as the Last Day draws ever closer. 

Or maybe to put this coming, this rescue, in the words we heard in the Holy Gospel today, the reading from Matthew, we could put it this way:

We are hungry and He gives us food - His very body to eat.
We are thirsty and He gives us drink - His very blood to drink.
When we were estranged from Him by sin or turn away from Him - He welcomes us in grace.
When we are naked and exposed by our sin - He clothes us with His righteousness.
We who are sick with the poison of sin He visits with the medicine of forgiveness.
And we who are in prison to death He came to in His own death to set us free with His resurrection.

All this that Babylon live no longer in us, but that He live in us. He and His Spirit of life. That on the Day of His return, when He comes to put an end to our Babylon, we won’t be sad that we’re losing all this - we will rejoice to see Him. For we have been waiting for Him, looking for Him, clinging to Him - not the things of this world. 

Yet even more, He will rejoice to see us. For whether or not we are waiting for the Last Day with the same excitement as we wait for Christmas Day, He is. He rejoiced to come and save us on that first Christmas Day, and He will rejoice when He comes to gather His flock on the Last Day. For you are His joy. It is you the Good Shepherd loves more than anything else in this world. It is you that He wants to be with Him forever. He wants the sheep-side of the judgment to be overflowing, and the goat-side to be empty.

And really, isn’t that joy how it will be if it’s not Babylon living in us, but He and His Spirit, He and His joy, He and His love, living in us? And instead of clinging to the things of this world, we’ll look to our neighbor instead? And help him as the one who lives in us helps us? 

So it’s not doing those things Jesus talked about in the Gospel that gets us out of Babylon and earns us a place in the kingdom - it’s getting Babylon out of us and Jesus into us that makes the difference. That makes His life our life, His love our love, and His joy our joy.

And you may not even realize it. Just as we may not realize the influence of Babylon in our hearts and minds, so too we will say: Lord, when did we see you and do all these things for you? But Jesus knows, and sees. And though we may consider what we do - our sins or our good - as little, He doesn’t. So He died for our sins, all of them; and He rejoices in our good, all of it.

Those who want Babylon and its gods, Babylon and its gods they will have. The Last Day will be a Judgment Day. 

But when your Good Shepherd is the Judge and you are a sheep of His flock, that day holds no fear, only joy. That Day is like Christmas Day, when the wraps come off, what is hidden is revealed, and what everyone wishes for at Christmas is finally true - there is peace. No more sin, no more evil, no more death. No more sadness, no more separation . . . and if there are tears, they are only of joy. 

How good those words sound - now - to us. As we wait for our David to come, to put an end to our Babylong, as we wait for His kingdom. And while we wait we pray: Thy kingdom come. And it is a two-fold prayer. Both that our David, the Son of David, Jesus, would come and put an end to Babylon and establish His kingdom; but also that He would come now. That He would come now and root Babylon out of us and out of all people. It is our prayer that on the Last Day, the sheep-side be overflowing, and the goat-side be empty.

And Jesus is answering that prayer. And so He comes today. He spoke to you His Absolution, and He will feed You with His Body and Blood. That you live in Him and He in you. A new life, with a new Spirit, that starts now and will never end. 

And so we pray: Thy kingdom come. Yes, come, our David! Come, Good Shepherd! Come, Lord Jesus!

In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.