The Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 20, 2020

 

SERVICE OF THE WORD

This service offers the congregation a form of worship that focuses on the proclamation of God’s Word.  Believers respond to this divine gift with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving.  The service begins on page 38 in the front of the hymnal.

M:       We worship today in the name of our Triune God— God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

C:        Amen

Confession of Sins

M:       We have come into the presence of God, who created us to love and serve Him as His dear children.  But we have disobeyed Him and deserve only His wrath and punishment.  Therefore, let us confess our sins to Him and plead for His mercy.

C:        Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth.  In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child.  But trusting in Jesus, my Savior, I pray:  Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love.  Cleanse me from my sin, and take away my guilt.

M:       God, our heavenly Father has forgiven all your sins.  By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has removed your guilt forever.  You are His own dear child.  May God give you strength to live according to His will.

C:        Amen.

Prayer and Praise

M:       In the peace of forgiveness, let us praise the Lord.

C:        Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.  Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.  Your faithfulness continues forever.  Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.  Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.

PRAYER OF THE DAY

M:       Let us pray.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.  Take away the burden of our sins and make us ready for the celebration of your birth, that we may receive you in joy and serve you always; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C:     Amen

The Word

FIRST LESSON – 2 Samuel 7:8-16

God reminds King David that He took him from the flocks of sheep and made him a great king.

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says:  I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you.  Now, I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.  Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel.  I will also give you rest from all your enemies.  The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you:  When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.  He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father, and he will be my son.  When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.  But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you.  Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’“ (NIV1984)

 

PSALM OF THE DAY – Psalm 89

 I will sing of the LORD’s great love forever;

I will make Your faithfulness known through all generations.

I will declare that Your love stands firm forever,

that You established Your faithfulness in heaven itself.

The heavens praise Your wonders, O LORD,

Your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones.

O LORD God Almighty, who is like You?

You are mighty, O LORD, and Your faithfulness surrounds You.

Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim You,

who walk in the light of Your presence, O LORD.

They rejoice in Your name all day long;

they exult in Your righteousness.

            Glory be to the Father and to the Son

and to the Holy Spirit,

            as it was in the beginning,

                        is now, and will be forever.  Amen

 

SECOND LESSON – Romans 16:25-27

Paul praises God, who revealed Jesus Christ as the Savior that all might believe.

Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God; so that all nations might believe and obey him—to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ!  Amen.  (NIV1984)

VERSE OF THE DAY

Alleluia.  The virgin will be with Child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel.  Alleluia. (Matthew 1:23)

CAlleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  These words are written that we may believe that Jesus is

       the Christ, the Son of God.  Alleluia!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

GOSPEL LESSON – Luke 1:26-38 (Sermon Text)

The angel Gabriel announces the birth of the Savior to the virgin Mary.  The angel tells Mary that God would give her Son the throne of His father David, and Mary humbly accedes to the Lord’s will.

 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.  The virgin’s name was Mary.  The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you.”  Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.  But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father  David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”  “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”  The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.  Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be barren is in her sixth month.  For nothing is impossible with God.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.  “May it be to me as you have said.”  Then the angel left her.  (NIV1984)

 C:        Praise be to you, O Christ!

 SERMON  His Kingdom Will Never End!

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

I went online last week and Googled “Ancient Empires.”  While we are all familiar with the empires we read about in the Bible— the Assyrian Empire, the Babylonian Empire, the Empire of the Meads and Persians, the Greek Empire and, of course, the Roman Empire— I was curious to see what I would find online.  Much to my surprise I ended up with a list that was over twenty pages long!  This list consisted of empires and kingdoms and dynasties.  As I went through this list, I found it interesting that some of these lasted for over 1,000 years!  The Assyrian Empire lasted for 1,119 years.  The Byzantine Empire lasted for 1,176 years.  The Chera Dynasty in India lasted for 2,129 years.  On the other side of that coin are the empires that did not last nearly as long.  The Afsharid Dynasty in Iran lasted only 60 years.  The Cao Wei Empire in China lasted only 45 years.  The Aulikare Empire in India lasted only 22 years.  And the Macedonian Empire last only 11 years.

Why are we talking about empires and kingdoms and dynasties this morning?  Because as we study the very familiar words of our sermon text, I want us to take a slightly different perspective on these words than you might have anticipated.  Today we are going to focus on verses 31-33 of our text.  This is where the angel Gabriel said to the virgin Mary, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” 

His Kingdom Will Never End!  That is our sermon theme for today.  As we study these words under that theme there are two very familiar questions we want to address.  The first question is, why?  Why will His Kingdom never end?  The second question is, what does this mean?  What does the fact that His Kingdom will never end mean for you and for me?

Why will His Kingdom never end?  As we look at all the empires and all the kingdoms and all the dynasties of this world, we see that while some of them last a very long time and while some of them last a relatively short amount of time, eventually they all come to an end!  In my estimation the reason for this is twofold.  First, all  these kingdoms are based on a mortal human being.  Once that person dies their kingdom or their empire or their dynasty easily collapses into the dust of history.  Second, most if not all of these kingdoms are based on greed— greed for more land, greed for more natural resources, greed for more wealth, greed for more power and control.  That greed for more comes to an end when someone who is more powerful and perhaps when someone who is even more greedy comes along.

The Kingdom that Gabriel talks about here in our text will never end because the foundation of this Kingdom is unique!  The foundation of this Kingdom is none other than the holy eternal “Son of the Most High” God, as Gabriel says here in our text.  As we heard in our sermon last Wednesday, according to His human nature Jesus is a true human being, a “descendant of David” (See Romans 1:1-6).  And yet, even though Jesus was born into this world as a tiny little Baby, He has existed alongside God the Father and God the Holy Spirit from all of eternity.  As John tells us in the opening chapter of his Gospel account, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made…The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1-3, 14).

Since we know Mary’s Son, since we know “the Son of the Most High” God, we know that His Kingdom, the Kingdom what will never end, is a Kingdom that is built on God’s glorious grace!  That truth is brought out beautifully by the prophets of old.  For example, using imagery that was very relevant to God’s people at the time, the prophet Isaiah comforted and strengthened God’s people by assuring them that God’s eternal Kingdom is a glorious Kingdom that will mark the end of all hostility, “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).  It will be a glorious Kingdom that is completely free from all pain and suffering and even death, “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever.  The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:7, 8).  It will be a glorious kingdom where all people will live in perfect peace, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).

None of that would be possible, my friends, if it weren’t for the fact that His Kingdom will never end!  Because His Kingdom is a Kingdom that is built on the fact that He is the “Son of the Most High” God, we also have the comfort of knowing that His Kingdom has always been, still is, and will forever be a Kingdom of Grace!  The virgin Mary experienced that grace firsthand when the angel Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!  The Lord is with you!”  And when Mary “was troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be,” Gabriel comforted her with God’s grace by saying, “Do not be afraid Mary, you have found favor with God.”  His Kingdom, the Kingdom that will never end, is not a kingdom that is based on fear or force or greed.  His Kingdom, the Kingdom that will never end, is a Kingdom that is based purely on grace.  In His grace God fulfilled all the promises that He had made to His people— including His promise to great King David.  And in His grace God fulfills all His promises to you and to me— including His promise that membership in His Kingdom is not based on something that we must do for Him!  No, membership in God’s Kingdom is based on what He does for us!

That truth is made crystal clear to us every time we lift up our eyes to the cross on Calvary’s hill.  (Pointing to the cross)  That truth is made clear to us every time we remember that we have been baptized in the Name of the Triune God.  The apostle Paul drives that point home when he says in Titus chapter three, “When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared (That’s Christmas!), he saved us, (Why?) not because of righteous things we had done but because of his mercy.  He saved us (How?) through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).  The Sacrament of Baptism is a visible tangible form of God’s pure amazing grace!  Through this holy Sacrament we are brought into His Kingdom— the Kingdom that never ends!

But, what does this mean, my friends?  How can we take the truth that His Kingdom is a Kingdom that never ends because it is founded on “the Son of the Most High” God, how can we take the truth that His Kingdom is a Kingdom that overflows with God’s amazing grace— how does all of this apply to our lives today?  I think our answer to that question is found in the words of the virgin Mary, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it be to me as you have said.”

Mary understood and humbly accepted the role which the Lord her God had graciously given to her in His Kingdom.  Mary understood and humbly believed the words that the Lord her God had revealed to her through the angel Gabriel.  And then Mary humbly shared this glorious news with others.  While it’s not a part of our text for today, we know that Mary “hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39, 40).  Together the mother of the one who would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:17) and the mother of the One whose “kingdom will never end” praised and glorified the God who always keeps His promises, the God who made all of this possible!

Understand and humbly accept the role that the Lord has given to you; understand and humbly believe the words that the Lord has revealed to you; humbly share with others the glorious news of what the Lord has done.  That three-point outline gives each and every one of us many opportunities to take this very familiar portion of Scripture and apply it to our own individual lives— especially at this time of the year!

No matter what role we have been given in God’s Kingdom here on this earth— a parent, a child, a grandparent, a sibling, a friend, a neighbor— Christmas gives us a wonderful opportunity to not only rejoice in the Good News that our Savior has been born, but it also gives us a wonderful opportunity to share that Good News with others!  Today would be a very good day to quietly review the names of people you know, people who need to hear the true message of Christmas and then ask the Lord to help you share that message with them.  You can also invite them to join us in our celebration of Christmas— via Zoom, of course!

In light of everything that is going on in the world around us, in light of all the uncertainty and all the insecurity that the pandemic has brought into the lives of so many people, the message that the Child of Bethlehem came into this world to establish a Kingdom of pure amazing Grace, a Kingdom that will never end— well, that my friends, is a message that people need to hear!

“You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

To God be the glory!

Amen

 

APOSTLES’ CREED

I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell.  The third day He rose again from the dead.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.

 

OFFERING

During this time of uncertainty we still want to bring our thank offerings to our dear Lord and Savior.  We ask that you continue to set your offerings aside so that when we are able to come together again in God’s House we will be able to place our offerings on His altar.

PRAYER OF THE CHURCH

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the precious gift of your Son Jesus Christ, whom you so graciously sent to earth and offered as the Lamb of sacrifice for our sins.  Holy Jesus, Son of the Most High God, we thank you for demonstrating God’s love for us by coming here as our Brother to die for our sins on the cross.  As we prepare to return in spirit to Bethlehem’s stable where you first appeared in human flesh to be our Savior, lend us your grace to rededicate ourselves in our thoughts, words and deeds to you.  Holy Spirit, we thank you for giving us the gift of saving faith, a faith which believes and confesses that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and this world’s only Savior from sin.

O Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in this season when we are reminded so much of the precious gift of salvation which your divine love has given us, stir up in our hearts a deep sense of brotherly love and cause us to be concerned about the welfare of others.  Give each of us a spirit of generosity toward those who are in need.  Keep all of us safe in your glorious Kingdom, the Kingdom that never ends!

All of this we ask in the Name of Jesus our Lord, who taught us to pray:

C:        Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever.  Amen.

M:       O Lord God, our heavenly Father, pour out the Holy Spirit on your faithful people.  Keep us strong in your grace and truth, protect and comfort us in all temptation, and bestow on us your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

C:        Amen.

M:       Brothers and sisters, go in peace.  Live in harmony with one another.  Serve the Lord with gladness.

The Lord bless you and keep you.  The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you.  The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.

C:        Amen.