Guest Pastor Jon Vieker preached this sermon on the fourth Sunday of Advent 12/20/2020. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Advent4 Bulletin

The text for the sermon was the day’s epistle lesson. To read the Bible texts for the fourth Sunday of Advent, click here.


Dear Friends in Christ Jesus:

Gaudete! “Rejoice!” Our Epistle this morning seems to be repeating last week’s Introit antiphon and, in fact, the theme for last Sunday. Rejoice! What’s up with that? Is this some kind of a slipped cog in the ancient lectionary? Well, some have suspected as much, but here we are, nevertheless. And, after all, St. Paul does say, “again, I will say, “Rejoice!” But then he continues with this Sunday’s theme: “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything.”

I.

If you’re feeling anxious this morning, then welcome to December. Welcome to the week before Christmas! And this year, a special treat: welcome to a “Covid Christmas!” For some of us, we may feel like we could cut the stress and tension in our life with a knife. And I’m probably making you more anxious right now by even talking about it.

But in our text for this morning, the word for “anxiety” carries the root sense of “caring,” or even “intense caring.” On the one hand, it’s kind of what we all do naturally as we go about caring for ourselves and our lives and even for one another. But this kind of natural caring becomes an anxious caring when we leave God out of the picture—when we start to think that it’s up to us get control of our lives when it’s spinning out of control; when we think and act as if God isn’t really necessary in our lives, or doesn’t really matter in the end.

And the anxiety can get even worse. It gets worse when we throw the problem of sin into the equation—and sin is a problem, you know. You can go on living as if only you mattered most—or as if only you and the people you love mattered most, or even as if only you and the whole human race mattered most. But the big question is whether you are living as if God mattered most?

You know, the Ten Commandments are divided into two tables, and the Second Table is all about our relationship with others — honor your father and your mother, do not murder or commit adultery or lie or steal or covet. We know those pretty well, and we’re pretty good at pointing them out when others break them at our expense, and less so when we break them at others’ expense. But you know, it’s the First Table, and in fact, the First Commandment, that’s the real problem and creates the real anxiety: “You shall have no other gods before me.” And our catechism explains it this way: “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Luther suggests that whatever “thing” you hang your heart on — whatever “thing” you look to most for life and fulfillment — that has, in fact, become your god, your idol. And every idol has feet of clay. That means it will eventually come tumbling down. All our idols come crashing to the ground when they can no longer take the pressure… when they can no longer do what only the living God can do — that is, be God… who gives you life, who loves you and cares for you as His own child, and who has redeemed you from all your sins.

“Repent!” declared John the Baptizer (Mark 1:4). Repent! “Turn away” from your idols, from yourself and your own resources. And turn instead to “the One who stands among you” (John 1:26). For the Lord is near.

II.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry

Announces that the Lord is nigh… (LSB 344, 1)

In Jesus Christ, the Lord is near… to you!

In baby Jesus, God Himself drew near. In fact, God Himself slept in the straw! All the blessings and riches of heaven were diapered and wrapped in an animal’s food trough! God Himself chose to take on your flesh and blood and dwell in the most insignificant of places and circumstances. As St. John wrote: “The Word became flesh and dwelt [“tented,” “camped out”] among us… (John 1:14)

And through every day of Jesus’ life and ministry, God Himself drew near… to sinners. Jesus began his ministry by receiving a baptism for sinners. Now He certainly didn’t need one for Himself, but He was baptized to identify Himself with the likes of you and me. Jesus spent his whole life throwing in his lot with sinners like you and I. He hung out with tax collectors and prostitutes, for goodness sake! Jesus loved to be called a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19). So if you want to be Jesus’ friend, you’d better be a sinner!

In Jesus’ suffering and death, God Himself drew near… to sinners. As St. John writes: “There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus in the middle(John 19:18). Jesus literally suffered and died in the middle of two sinners. But more importantly, He suffered and died for all sinners. Jesus took all of your sins and my sins and the sins of the whole world into His body on the tree (1 Peter 2:24). There is nothing that you have ever done—no sin, no shameful thing, no hurtful thought, no harmful word or deed, no nothing! — that has not been totally and completely covered with the blood of Jesus. You are covered! You are righteous! Through your baptism, you have been clothed with Jesus’ perfect righteousness, like a spotless white robe that covers every stain and blemish. So that when God the Father looks at you through the blood-stained lenses of Calvary, He doesn’t see your sins. He sees only the perfect righteousness of His perfect Son. As St. Paul declares: “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

Luther said: “[In Jesus Christ, God] came so near that He could not be any nearer.” That means that in Jesus Christ, God could not be any nearer to you. Hear God’s promise again in this morning’s Gradual: “The Lord is near to all them that call upon Him…” (Psalm 145:18) Jesus promises to be near to you whenever you call upon Him, so that “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Or as St. Peter declares: “Cast all your anxieties [your cares] upon Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

In Jesus Christ, God could not be any nearer to you. Hear again His promise: “‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 10:8–11)

Here, today — in these words read from Holy Scripture, spoken in Holy Absolution, preached from this pulpit — Jesus draws near to you. Here, today — through simple bread and wine, Jesus draws near to you with His own body and blood, given and shed for you to eat and drink for the forgiveness of you sins. Here, today — “wherever two or three are gathered together,” Jesus promises, “there I am among them.” (Matthew 18:20) Or, as He promised His Church until the end of time: “Behold, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

And that is a promise that faith cannot let go of. “Behold, I am with you always.” Here, always, are His Means of Grace, for you — in water and Word, bread and wine. Hold on to God’s promises! They will carry you through all anxieties, through all sickness and sorrow, through all darkness, and even through death itself.

So come again this Christmas to worship the Lord who draws near. As Luther said:

My reason would tell me that if I want to see God, I should look up on high somewhere. But I tell you, if you really want to find joy, bend yourself down to the manger. That’s where I want to be. I want to stay with that little boy, as He sucks, as He’s washed, and as He dies. There is no joy except in that little boy! Take Him away, and you will only face God’s wrath. But as for me, I want to know of no other God but the one in the manger.

I.N.I. Amen.


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