December 28, 2018- The Gift of Joy…or the Pursuit of Stuff? Isaiah 9:6-7, Isaiah 29:19

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For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

Our culture places a great deal of emphasis on our own personal comfort, and therefore on the pursuit of stuff. Who wouldn’t want a lovely adjustable bed or an instant cosmetic fix for facial imperfections? Those who deal with late night insomnia and have a subscription to cable have no doubt been inundated with the endless procession of infomercials that extol the virtues of just about every product under the sun.  The late night infomercial announcers sing the praises of stuff you never knew existed, and stuff you never knew you needed….until now!  For example, why bend over to wash your feet when you can use:easy feet

The problem with the pursuit of stuff is that there is never enough stuff, or the right stuff.  Material things in and of themselves are morally neutral- God made the world and everything in it, and gave humanity stewardship of it. (Genesis 1:26-28) Stuff isn’t good or bad.  Our use of stuff can be considered good or evil, and as we are saints and sinners at the same time, our use of stuff is generally a mixed bag.  Sometimes we are good stewards of God’s gifts, and other times we are not. Our dilemma begins when we esteem the created thing more than the Creator.  We are all guilty of breaking the First Commandment.

The First Commandment:

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. – Martin Luther, from the Small Catechism

None of us can claim to perfectly fear, love and trust God above all things. All of us fall short in this regard, whether it is by making idols of our relationships, or our wealth, or our position in the community, or by simply not believing that God is in charge of everything.

Yet Jesus came to set us free from our sins. While we were still sinners and lost, He broke the curse of Eden so we would not have to endure death and hell. Jesus came to this earth as a human, yet as God at the same time, to live the perfect life we cannot live and to be the perfect sacrifice we cannot be. In Him we are given true joy. We who are named, claimed and marked with the Cross of Christ forever, in our baptism, by the faith that He has given us, have been set free to live joyfully.

Joy is not the same thing as happiness. Happiness is generated internally. Happiness is fleeting and is largely dependent on our circumstances and our feelings. Joy is given- it comes from outside of ourselves. Joy is not dependent upon ourselves or our feelings. Joy is a gift of serenity and peace, a fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:19-23)  We are given joy in the Lord regardless of our circumstances, because in faith we trust that He is with us forever, and we share in eternal life with Him.

The Prince of Peace is with us.

As we celebrate the Christmas season, we are reminded that our salvation and our joy come from Christ alone. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this as Isaiah said.  God’s will be done.  His joy is given to us, from outside of us.  It is a gift, unearned, undeserved and freely given.

The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the poor among mankind shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. Isaiah 29:19 (ESV)

December 14, 2016- That Thing About Shepherds-Ezekiel 34:12, Ezekiel 34:23, Luke 2:8-20

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As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. Ezekiel 34:12 (NRSV)

I don’t say this from experience, as I have never lived on a farm, and have spent most of my life living and working in the city, but I have been told that sheep are stupid.  They wander off.  They get confused easily.  If left to their own devices they will follow anyone or go anywhere without regard for their own safety.

It seems ironic that God refers to us as His sheep then, and to Jesus as the good Shepherd. The sad part of that is that apart from God we can behave just like sheep- wandering off, getting confused, and following anything and everything. If we are following the wrong shepherd, or none at all, we are asking for trouble.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.  Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.   But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:  to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”   So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;  and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.   But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.   The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.  –Luke 2:8-20 (NRSV)

In Biblical times shepherds were considered low level manual laborers.  Being a shepherd was not a job that commanded respect.  It’s easy to see why.  Sheep are dirty and stupid, and it takes a lot of work to keep them healthy and staying together. A shepherd would end up smelling like sheep.   Shepherding is a thankless and dirty job that commands long hours of staying up and watching.

But God considered the shepherds- before the kings and rulers and “important” people.  God sent His angel to the shepherds early on to announce the coming of the Good Shepherd to encourage them, to lift them up, to let them know that His Kingdom was at hand.

I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. Ezekiel 34:23 (NRSV)

That thing about shepherds. God doesn’t have a problem with getting into the not so nice and the dirty, mundane parts of life on this earth. How does God look at who and what are important to Him?  Are our priorities the same as His?