Redeemer Ev. Lutheran Church, Iola, WI

Sermons, Devotions, and News from Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iola, WI

Tag Archives: advent

St. Lucia & Hanukkah

On December 13th, the Church remembers St. Lucia, a virgin Christian martyr who was killed under the persecution of Roman Emperor Diocletian. She devoted her life to the faith, even though it meant that the pagan man who wished to marry her had her killed in anger and in shame. Like the blood of the other martyrs, St. Lucia provides an example of faith in the face of persecution.

Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. In fact, that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5:11-12 (EHV)

At sundown on December 12th, the Jewish festival of Hanukkah began. Over the next 8 days, the festival will be commemorated by food, family, games, and the lighting of the menorah (candelabra) or hanukkiah. This practice has its origin in the account of the Maccabees (from the apocryphal books of 1 & 2 Maccabees) who won a victory over their Greek oppressors and took back the temple, rededicating it for sacred use. According to this account, there was a miracle that first Hanukkah: the wicks of the temple’s menorah burned for eight straight days, despite there only being enough oil for one day. This was taken as a symbol of God’s great providence for his people even in the face of oppression.

What an intriguing occasion this year, that Hanukkah coincides with the Festival of St. Lucia – the Jewish festival of lights coincides with the day of the Christian saint whose name means “light.”

According to legend, St. Lucia had her eyes gouged out before her martyrdom. This imposed blindness was supposed to be a message to Christians, that they shouldn’t think about “seeing” or “knowing” anything negative about the Empire. St. Lucia, of course, like other Christian martyrs, chose to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29, EHV). Christians throughout the centuries have commemorated this specific martyr by lighting lights in honor of her name, and in confession of the truth of God that surpasses the darkness of this world: Jesus is the light who “is shining in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, EHV). The Word of God testifies to him, that Word which is “a lamp for my feet and a light for my path” (Ps. 119:105, EHV), because Jesus is himself “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6, EHV).

This Hanukkah and Advent season, remember the light which has indeed won the victory against the oppressive darkness. This is God’s light and God’s victory against sin, death, and the devil, and so, “thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (1 Cor. 15:57, EHV).

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, Evangelical Heritage Version® (EHV®) ©2017 Wartburg Project, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Feasting with God #45 – Food of Penitence

Feasting with God #45

Food of Penitence

Text: Matthew 3:1-6

1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  3For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”

4Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

With the advent of our Lord approaching, we have to be prepared.  It was John the Baptist’s purpose to prepare hearts for that very coming, hence his message: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

At the end of the world, when Jesus returns in glory, “he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (Matt. 25:32).  You remember that story, when the King will recount to the sheep and goats their deeds (or lack thereof), demonstrating the evidence of a righteous or a wicked life, and the wicked “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).

Going through the deeds of the wicked and the righteous, if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that we often slip onto the side of the goats.  Or maybe we think we’re fine.  Think of the Christmas story: “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).  How many of us haven’t thought, “If Mary and Joseph came to my town, I would give them a room!”?  That’s a nice sentiment, but how honest is it, really?  Have you ministered to all of “the least of these” that you’ve met (Matt. 25:45)?  Have we started to claim that we’re pretty good, that we try our best, that God has to admit that we’ve done everything we’re capable of?

Such claims are pointless, trying to make ourselves feel better for our own shortcomings.  Claiming, “I’m doing my best,” assumes that God is content with “the best” of someone who is corrupted by sin.  The truth is, God demands perfection: not one bit less.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8).  This is why John baptized and demanded repentance.  His whole life was a demonstration of this attitude: he “wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  He gave up any comforts or soft fabrics and wore the itchy camel’s-hair to remind himself of his sinfulness.  He relinquished any delicacies and ate only the things found in the wilderness, locusts and wild honey.  His image and his message made an impression, and people were awakened to their sinfulness and their need for salvation.

Realize: it’s no use trying to hide your sinfulness.  Saying, “I’ve done my best,” means nothing; only trying to hide your true wickedness from yourself and from God.  But there is a promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).  This is how we get on the side of the sheep: we repent, we are baptized, we are forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ covers our unrighteousness.

This is John’s message, and it applies now more than ever, with the kingdom of heaven so close at hand.  It’s coming; are we on the side of the righteous or the unrighteous?  Cross the river Jordan in baptismal repentance, by confessing your sins and receiving Christ’s forgiveness.

Lord Jesus, as your advent nears, prepare us by your grace and forgiveness.  Return us always to our baptisms in repentance, and when we confess our sins, cover us in your righteousness, so that at your coming we might stand on your right and join you in eternal glory.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

Feasting with God #44 – Jesus Will Eat with Us

Feasting with God #44

Jesus Will Eat with Us

Text: Revelation 3:20

20Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

Are you ready for the Advent of our Lord?  He is so near now, and could come at any moment, so that we should be constantly vigilant.

In St. John’s visions, Jesus speaks this statement as part of his letter to the church of Laodicea, which he had described as “neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15-16).  This church needs warning because, while they are not opposed to Christ and his Word, they are not great promoters of him either.  Rather they say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” (3:17).  They believe they are sufficient.  They believe that they have all the religion they need.

This is meant as a warning to us as well.  With any number of reasons (I don’t like the people; the seats are uncomfortable; the sermons are boring; etc.) many people think that church is unnecessary, and it’s justified in our minds by thinking, “I know I’m saved; I know God’s Word; I can worship on my own.”  While it’s true, solitary worship and prayer is heard by God, this does not mean “neglecting to meet together” is a healthy habit (Heb. 10:25).  Instead, the warning to the Laodiceans must be taken to heart, as well as the promise.

Jesus promises, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  The best way to be sure of hearing his voice is to sit awake by the door.  This is not a physical wakefulness; it is a spiritual one, a wakefulness of faith.

Driving down dark roads at night, when one has not been rested or nourished properly, is dangerous.  Sleep-deprived drivers, they say, are more dangerous than drunk drivers.  Partially that’s because it’s so difficult to realize when you’re falling asleep at the wheel.  Sleep sneaks up and pounces from behind.  On your own, you may think that by sheer force of will you can keep yourself awake, but without proper preparation and readiness, sleep wins.

To keep faith from falling asleep, it’s not a matter of keeping yourself awake by force of will.  Sleep wins over will all the time; it just waits for the will to get tired.  No, to keep faith awake, it needs the proper nutrients, it needs the occasional splash of cold water or pinch, it needs someone close by who can notice when sleep starts to slip in and keep your faith awake.

All this comes from being, not lukewarm or thinking, “I’ve got this,” but dependent upon the Word of God, which with its Law wakes us up to the fact that we are falling asleep on our own, and with its Gospel keeps our eyes focused on the prize at the end.

That prize is eternal fellowship with Jesus, when he comes in and sits at our table, sharing a feast with us.  He is already with us, because he knocked at the door and was given entrance by the Holy Spirit when his Word brought us to faith.  He will come again at the Last Day—when no one knows it will come—and if we are awake in faith and ready by the door, then we feast with him in heaven for eternity.

Lord Jesus, keep our faiths awake by close attendance to your Word and by fellowship with our fellow Christians when we gather together around that Word.  Let us never become lukewarm or proud, believing ourselves self-sufficient, but show us how we must depend on you entirely.  In your name we ask it.  Amen.

Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.