Sermon: “Rejoicing Hearts” (Wednesday Advent Service – 12/10/2014)

GRACE, MERCY, AND PEACE are YOURS this Advent-tide from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN.

The theme for our Advent meditations is “Preparing to meet Him with rejoicing hearts and raised voices.” And this evening, we come to “rejoicing hearts.” The text for us to consider is from the Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 10, where the disciples return after being sent before the Lord into the towns and villages where He himself would go – in a sense – preparing the people to meet their Lord. And they come back rejoicing! “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!” they said. And our Lord tells them. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to read on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

In the Name of Jesus. AMEN.

The joy of the holiday season approaches – that time of the year when the world co-opts a Christian celebration and talks about peace on earth, good will among men, and a generalized feeling that there is hope – hope that life can be better – the world will get a little bit brighter and happier next year.
Perhaps you’ve already started planning out your New Year’s resolutions for next year. At the very least, this time of year seems to be somewhat of a respite from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Oh, sure, there’s the hustle and bustle of the season – shopping – visiting family and friends – the parties and other get togethers – but that’s different – it’s short lived – and it’s for a good cause – after all, it’s the Holiday season! We can overcome these short lived triffles easily enough especially when the end is in sight.
But daily life – the daily grind – is harder. The only end in sight it THE end – when daily life will cease and we will take our last breath. Until then, it seems as if it’s one struggle after another. There seems to be a strong resistance to what is good, and right, and holy in the world – a stacking the deck against righteousness and holiness and godly things.

No wonder the disciples were excited when they returned – “EVEN THE DEMONS submit to us in Your Name,” they said. This is power – Authority – surely they were in the company of the right person.
But it’s important to notice that Jesus tempers their excitement and redirects their cause for rejoicing. “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
What a downer – let’s be honest – the fact that my name is written in some book in a place I can’t get to and see doesn’t excite me all that much.

How is that fact supposed to bring joy and rejoicing here and now – amid all the trial and difficulty of everyday life – especially when we don’t see ourselves treading on serpents, and scorpions, and the power of the enemy seems to press upon us to overwhelm us and take us away in a flood of evil and iniquity?

St. Paul writes to the Philippian church and says, “Rejoice in the Lord Always; and again I say, Rejoice!” But how often do we hear this apostolic encouragement and instead of finding the peace and comfort intended by those words we push back, roll our eyes, and say to ourselves, “Oh, Paul, If you only knew…”

How easily we forget — Paul did know. Arrested, bound and in chains, under Roman guard. Attacked by the Jews at every turn – and then attacked by the gentiles whe he preached against their false gods. Paul would be subjected to shipwreck and would be in chains for years waiting for a trial for a charge that would have disappeared if he had not appealed to Caesar. All because of His faith in the Lamb who has overcome. And yet, Paul encourages us, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” I daresay, Paul would rightly look at our circumstances, roll his eyes and chide us for our inability to see the forest for the trees. Paul knew full well that there is much more going on in this world than the setbacks and troubles and trials and difficulties we experience in our individual lives.

There’s a battle going on – and St. Paul knew it well. He was right on the front lines. And it’s not a battle to secure our comfort and peace in this life – it isn’t a battle for peace on earth – good will among men – or even a better tomorrow or a happy and prosperous new year.

And in the midst of this battle – we already have every reason to rejoice – even laugh in the face of the trials and hardships sent our way by the devil. For our victory has already been secured.
To help us see that this season of preparation gives us every reason to Rejoice, our three texts show the big picture of this cosmic battle. It’s a battle that extends through time and space and into heaven itself. It’s a battle waged for us and for our eternal life and salvation.

This battle started in the Garden of Eden when the wicked serpent attempted to destroy mankind by setting a trap for Adam – ensnaring him and leading him to willingly bow down give that wiley foe authority over all creation.

God had given Adam rule and authority over all creation. But Adam willingly disobeyed – and ate of the fruit that God had commanded him not to. And because he did so so at the instigation of the serpent who wickedly deceived his wife, Adam not only became a wicked and rebellious sinner against God. Adam did not only enslave all of his children, you and me included, to sin and death. As Adam obeyed the serpents desire over God’s desire, Adam stepped down from the throne upon which God had placed him over all creation – – Adam gave his power and authority – and enthroned the wicked serpent in his place.
So, when the devil takes Jesus to the top of the mountain and shows all the kingdoms of the world and says, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will.” He isn’t lying. That power and authority was handed over to the devil by Adam.

And it was impossible that it would be one of Adam’s seed who would take it back. Everyone born of Adam’s seed – everyone born of the natural union of a man and a woman – is born captive to the devil and to sin.

Thus, God gave the promise of another seed – the seed of the woman. And cursing the serpent to crawl on his belly and eat the dust of the earth from which Adam was created, God said that He would raise up the seed of the woman – an offspring of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head even as the serpent bruised His heel.

Looking backward, we see that this was a clear promise of the birth of Jesus – born of the virgin Mary – a true seed of the woman. And as His heal was pierced with a spike, Jesus did not only pay for our sins, but Had done battle against Satan and would emerge victorious, crushing Satan’s headship over creation. The lamb who was slain rose victoriously on the third day and ascended into heaven as the one who rules and reigns as lord over all creation.

And with Jesus’ ascension into heaven, that great dragon was cast down to earth – as our reading from Revelation tells us. No longer does he stand before the throne of God to accuse God’s elect of sin and treachery. Now there is only Christ, the lamb in the midst of the throne – testifying day and night that the penalty due for our sin has been paid. We are free from guilt before God because of Christ’s finished work to save and rescue us from sin and death.

That’s what our reading in Revelation tells us. Not merely has Satan fallen from his holy estate as an angel of God, “falling from heaven like lightening” as Jesus said. But now that Christ has died in your place – for the guilt of your sins – Satan no can no longer accuse you before the throne of God. You are forgiven and free from guilt and shame before God because Christ has accomplished your salvation. And Christ binds you to Himself, bringing you through death in your baptism. Placing His mark upon your forehead and writing your name in the book of life.

This is why the world did not end at the cross – nor did it end when Christ ascended on high to the right hand of God. Because, if it did, you and I would be excluded from God’s Kingdom and God’s promise that through Abraham’s offspring, all the nations of the earth would be blessed, would not have been fulfilled. The world has continued to this day so that the preaching of the Kingdom could come down to our ears so that we would be saved. If that’s not a reason to rejoice, I don’t know what is!

But, in the meantime, the serpent was not immediately into the lake of fire. He has been cast down upon the earth. After Jesus’ Ascension, He tried to destroy the church at the hand of the Jews and Saul who persecuted the first Christians seeking to reign down death upon them. But the Lord Jesus intervened and through the work of His Holy Spirit, He caused Paul to be the preacher to the gentiles – it was as if the earth swallowed up the flood of wrath and anger. And the church spread – and was spread even more when the devil used his influence and led the Romans to invade Jerusalem to destroy the Holy City. Since then, the Word of the Lord has spread to every corner of the globe – bringing with it salvation and hope to everyone who hears – what more reason to rejoice is there than that?

Yet, the devil continues to pursue the church and her members wherever they are. “Furious” and “with great wrath,” is how he is described in our text from St. John’s Revelation. And to this day, he continues “to make war on … those who treasure the words of God – those who keep the commandments of God – and cling to the testimony concerning Jesus.

”Where there are those who treasure God’s Word and cling to the Apostle’s testimony about Jesus – the devil is enraged and furiously makes war. He summons all his might and cunning to do it.
First, He attempts to lead us astray – seeking to cause us to set aside God’s Word as he did when he deceived Eve and tricked Adam. Notice how they didn’t treasure God’s words – but through His cunning, Adam set aside God’s Word and ignored it and ate. This is his first ploy – to steal the Word of God from us – to make us think little about it and treat it as if it were unimportant or less important than something or someone else.

When that doesn’t work, the wicked foe tries to strip Jesus away from us. It is no accident that at Christmas and Easter – every year – like clockwork – there is another attack on the testimony about Jesus birth from a virgin – His death on the cross – His resurrection from the dead. The testimony of the eye-witnesses that we confess in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed is under attack in a planned attempt to steal away our hope and confidence in the person and work of Jesus – whose death forgave our sins – and whose resurrection proves our freedom – and whose ascension is the devil’s undoing.

The goal is to sow doubt – to get us to question God’s love and reject Jesus’ work on our behalf. After all, if Christ was not a real man, born the sinless son of God of the virgin, we have nothing to hope for. If he was not raised from the dead, our faith is in vain, we are still in our sins. If He has not ascended to the right hand of God to intercede for us and declare us not guilty because of His sacrifice, we are condemned. And that is the devil’s game. To steal us away from God by hook or by crook.

And when he can’t get us to reject God’s Word or deny the testimony concerning Jesus, He will attack us in other ways – perhaps making it impossible to worship because of work commitments – perhaps interfering with our family life so we will fell guilty and ashamed and won’t come to church. Even though the devil can’t accuse us before God, he can accuse us to our selves and convince us that our sin is to great to be forgiven. And if that doesn’t work, he can work through gossip and slander and lead our friends and neighbors to cast a sideways glance at us – so that they make us uncomfortable.

And all this on top of the trials and troubles of living in a world corrupted by the bad stewardship of Adam and all the generations since – making work difficult and hard and unrewarding and unfulfilling – making child rearing challenging and a great cause of anxiety and fear not only for our own eternal welfare but the welfare of our children.

You see – what ultimately steals our joy is the work of the devil who convinces us one way or another to forget about Jesus and ignore what He has done for us.
THIS is why our Lord says, “Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you.” He’s saying, “Do not rejoice at your outward circumstances – what you see – what you hear – what’s going on in your life – all of that can change in a second – in the blink of an eye. They are not the source of true and lasting joy.” The source of true and lasting joy is your knowledge of Jesus and the confidence He gives to you that YOUR Name is written in heaven.

And our Lord Jesus knows it is written there – because He has inscribed it there in His blood. He has come to you and called you and elected you and chosen you for salvation. He has sealed you with His Holy Spirit. He has washed you clean in the waters of your baptism – He feeds you and nourishes you with His body and blood – and He speaks into your ears His words and promises saying, “Lo, I am with you always.”

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father,” says Jesus” and no one knows who the son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him.” And the Son has chosen that the Father would be revealed to You. The Son is Jesus from Nazareth – the baby boy in the manger – the one who grew up, was crucified, died, buried and did not stay dead, but has risen and lives and reigns for you to all eternity. And He sends to you His message of peace with God and God’s good will to men upon whom His favor rests. The very message that caused the Angels to rejoice on that first Christmas.

Our joy as Christians comes from the fact that you and I have been personally and individually selected by Jesus to live and reign to all eternity with Him. We have been given to know the joy of the Kingdom of God through Christ who has worked forgiveness for our sins and poured out upon us His Holy Spirit to work faith and trust in that Forgiveness that He freely offers. Freeing us to acknowledge and admit our sin and receive His the mercy of God who sent His son as the lamb to be slain – the very lamb who now lives and reigns over all creation – having crushed the rule, power, and authority of the evil foe.

All that remains is for us to joyfully await His return – having accomplished our salvation on the cross, our Lord, Jesus, continues to work among us – He causes us to hear His Word. He continues to deliver to us the words of absolution – telling you, your sins are forgiven. He continues to feed us with His body and blood to keep and preserve us. And He does so, in order that we will always be those who treasure God’s Word – so that we will have strength to hold fast to the witness handed over to us by the Apostles – telling us of the man who suffered, died, was buried, rose again, ——- and will return with the angels in clouds of glory to bring us to Himself forever.

Therefore, beloved

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
The Lord is at hand;
do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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