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SERMON FOR THE FOURTH SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 12-22-2019

LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL

Pastor Michael Larson

Our first reading today comes from the Book of Deuteronomy. That whole book is a sermon by Moses. His last sermon, in fact. And he’s preaching to the congregation of Israel as they prepare to enter the promised land.

From our reading this morning Moses is saying, “Remember Mount Sinai? Remember when that whole mountain shook and the very air trembled as the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder? Remember the consuming fire and the smoke? The coming of God in all His unveiled power at that mountain. How about His thundering voice that made you shake like a leaf and shudder with the fear of death? You were shamed and horrified by the holiness of God’s presence, so because of your sin you stepped back.

So you begged me, remember that, you, pleaded with me, “Moses, you speak to us, we’ll listen to you, but don’t let God speak to us or we’ll die.”

Well, God acknowledged that was a good prayer. Something you needed. So He gave you a promise. A wonderful promise, that He would speak to you through a prophet like me. But greater. And the Lord God would put His words into His mouth and this prophet – the prophet - He would speak all that God commanded Him.

So when would this prophet show up? And how would the world know it? Well, God took thought of that too.

Before this promised prophet, He would send a messenger, a trumpet voice to announce to one and all that the Prophet had at last come. Enter John the Baptist.

So now fast forward now to today’s Gospel. The power brokers in Jerusalem send a group of bureaucrats to John. And they’ve got one question: Who are you? Short but respectfully John answers, saying, “I’m not the Christ.” Are you Elijah then? “I am not.” Now remember God’s promise to Moses about one being raised up from among the people? You know, THE prophet, who would speak for God, who well, was God. Those Jerusalem bureaucrats – they’re no slouches – they know the Scriptures. They’ve got the right question – they’re just not ready for the answer. So they ask “Are you the prophet?”  Notice the definite article there. The prophet – the prophet to end all prophets. John answers in the negative.

Well, then who are you? Give us something. “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord…I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

The coming of God in all His unveiled power at Mount Sinai was terrifying to the people of Israel. The holiness of God was all-consuming and threatening. So they prayed for another – a go-between – a mediator between God and man.

So God promised to raise up a prophet – like Moses. From among them, yet God’s own Son. So how wonderful when the angel Gabriel delivered this good news to Mary, that she would bear the prophet – the Messiah – the Lord of Sinai now veiled in human flesh!

At last, God was making good on His promise. A go-between man, a mediator between God and His people. To come between His holiness and their sin. To bridge the gap, to reconcile God and man, and make peace by the blood of the cross.

Mount Sinai trembled when God spoke, but on Mount Calvary, when Christ died on the tree, the whole creation trembled before what it saw. A fiery sacrifice of the holy Son of God. His atoning death for the sins of the world. The earth shook, the rocks split, the tombs opened and the bodies of the saints were raised. Death itself was coming undone. God was speaking loudly and clearly of His love for man as His own Son was wrapped in a linen shroud and laid in the manger of the grave.

When Christ sprang up from the grave, death being unable to hold Him, He gave the greatest Christmas gift anyone could ever ask for. God’s mercy, His peace, and His divine approval. The very salvation of our souls.   

I love today’s epistle reading. It’s the shortest epistle reading the whole year. St. Paul says, “Rejoice always. Let your moderation, your gentleness, be known to all.” He says, Don’t be anxious or worried about anything.

So why should we rejoice? Why should we be kind and gentle to one another? Why should we refuse to worry or be anxious about a single thing? Well, Paul’s got a simple answer for that and a good one. Why?! Because the Lord is here! He’s at hand. He’s among us! Here and now.   

Yes, the prophet. The Defeater of death and lover of mankind. John again points us to the second person of the Holy Trinity on the altar. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Christmas, dear friends, is almost here. Above all, It’s a feast of God’s hidden presence, right smack dab in our midst.

At Sinai God’s holiness was a consuming fire and utterly terrifying to God’s people. It was a sad day. Their sin and shame had separated them from God. They were filled with fear, had to step back and say no more! So God promised to send His Son, Jesus, to reveal His kind and merciful heart. And He promised to send a man – a voice – a finger to introduce the whole world to Him.

So John’s ministry continues this morning in a wonderful way. He points us to the Risen Christ, victorious over sin, death, and hell, reigning on the altar. And we sing, “Behold the Lamb of God.” And the children, the tiny prophets, are not afraid to point, and say it: “The body of Jesus. That’s Jesus blood.”  

At Sinai sinful man had to take a big step back from God’s holiness, but not now, not this morning. Instead, God invites you to come forward, walk to the altar, and step into the light of His glorious presence. Because He wants nothing more than to share all that holiness with you. No frightening trumpet blast, but instead the invitation of angels saying, “Do not be afraid.”

So Merry Christmas to all of you. Forget the nostalgia, the commercialism, and all the distractions this time around. Let this season be a feast of God’s hidden presence breaking into your life.

Go to Bethlehem, see the Lord of Sinai lying in a manger. So sweet and gentle. Peer into those stable doors and behold Him who made the heavens and the earth. And be glad. What better gift could you hope to have than the gift of God’s Son? For in that tiny little gift wrapped in swaddling clothes, all the promises of God have come true for you – forgiveness of sins – friendship with God – fellowship with angels – and the promise that nothing in heaven or earth will ever separate you from Him and His love.