Gabriel, Mary, and the Birth of the Messiah

Date: December 24, 2017
Liturgical Day: The Fourth Sunday of Advent; Year B

a servant of God
Mary, Mother of our Lord
strong, bold and faithful

Summary:
The Annunciation (of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary) is an amazing story, told by St. Luke in an extraordinary way. And as we read slowly and carefully enough to notice what this story is telling us, and to wonder what it might mean for us, we find ourselves invited into the Christmas story in a new and fresh way.

Download Sermon: 2017-12-24 Sermon

The Season of Advent with Isaiah, the Prophet 

This year at Saint Peter Lutheran Church during the season of Advent, a four-week time of preparing for Christmas by preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ into our lives, we spent time with the Prophet Isaiah.

Isaiah is one of the greatest of the prophets in the Hebrew Bible; he appears at a critical time in Israel’s history. Israel (the northern kingdom) was conquered by Assyria in 722 b.c., and in 587 b.c. Jerusalem (capital of Judah, the southern kingdom) fell to the Babylonians.

Isaiah’s ministry most likely took place in Jerusalem from 740 to 681 b.c. In 740, Isaiah was called by God to ministry. Jewish tradition held that Isaiah was sawed in half by Manasseh (Hezekiah’s son) in the year 681 (a story referenced by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 11:37).

Isaiah is one book in our Bible, but it most likely began as three separate works. First Isaiah (chapters 1-39) includes prophecies from Isaiah while he is living in Judah, during the time when Israel is annexed by Assyria, and before Judah is destroyed by Babylon. Isaiah calls the people of Judah to stay true to God, or the same will happen to them. He is particularly concerned with social justice, and how Judah’s faithlessness in this area is an indication of its tenuous relationship with God.

Second Isaiah (chapters 40-55), written in Isaiah’s voice, but clearly not by Isaiah, is set during the exile in Babylon. Many historians date this from 587 to 538 b.c. Cyrus of Persia (who conquered Babylon) is seen as a Messianic hero, because his military victory over Babylon allows the people of Israel to return to their home — an event that is described with great joy. This section emphasizes God’s ability to use historical events to advance righteousness.

Third Isaiah (chapters 56-66), by an anonymous author, was probably written between 530 and 510 b.c., after the return to Judah. God’s people are putting their destroyed nation together, and it is a very harsh life. Isaiah offers them words of hope and encouragement.

During this season, Pastor Dave offered sermons during Wednesday evening prayer based on texts from Isaiah. These sermons intended to help us sit at the feet of Isaiah and explore how to understand better the relationship we are invited to have with God, as well as the historical context of the life and ministry of Jesus, the Christ. Texts from his sermon are linked below

November 29 — Wednesday before the First Sunday of Advent
“Oh That You Would Come!” (Isaiah 64:1-9)
Advent 1B.Wednesday.2017

December 6 — Wednesday before the Second Sunday of Advent
“Comfort, O Comfort My People” (Isaiah 40:1-11)
Advent 2B.Wednesday.2017

December 13 — Wednesday before the Third Sunday of Advent
“Righteousness and Praise” (Isaiah 61:1-4)
Advent 3B.Wednesday.2017

December 20 — Wednesday before the Fourth Sunday of Advent
“Unto Us” (Isaiah 9:2-7)
Advent 4B.Wednesday.2017

Advent 4B (12/24/2017)

Lessons:
2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16
St. Luke 1:46b-55
or Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
St. Luke 1:26-38

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

St. Luke 1:26-38, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Here Am I, the Servant of the Lord

Mary. Mother of Our Lord. Blessed Mother. Blessed Virgin Mary. Madonna. Our Lady. Queen of Heaven. Theotokos. Mater Dei. Mater Dolorosa. The importance of Mary in the story of Jesus and the history of the church is suggested by the many names and titles given to her over the years.

Mary and her story of faith have played significant roles in the church’s piety and practice. This has been the case at least since the middle of the fifth century when the Council of Ephesus declared Mary’s role as “Theotokos” (the bearer of God) to be essential to her nature, and central to the church’s practice. What developed in years to come was a subtle and complex relationship between Mary, Jesus and the Church. (more…)

Advent 4B (12/24/2017)

Lessons:
2nd Samuel 7:1-11, 16
St. Luke 1:46b-55
or Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
Romans 16:25-27
St. Luke 1:26-38

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

St. Luke 1:26-38, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A devotional message based on this text will be posted by Tuesday evening.

In the Wilderness

Date: December 17, 2017
Liturgical Day: The Third Sunday of Advent; Year B

in the wilderness
make straight the way of the Lord
the witness of John

Summary:
John was sent to prepare people for Christ. Matthew, Mark and Luke emphasize his ministry of baptism in the Jordan River. The Fourth Gospel emphasizes his role as a witness in the wilderness. To what wilderness settings does Jesus come today?

Some discussion Questions:
1. What is the central purpose of John the Baptizer’s ministry, according to this Gospel?
2. What are the marks of a faithful life that the Apostle Paul describes in this passage?
3. What promise does Isaiah make on behalf of God to those who were returning from exile to Jerusalem?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-12-17 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-12-17 TIH

Advent 3B (12/17/2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
or St. Luke 1:46b-55
1st Thessalonians 5:16-24
St. John 1:6-8, 19-28

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God, and open our ears to the words of your prophets, that, anointed by your Spirit, we may testify to your light; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

1.6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” as the prophet Isaiah said.

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

St. John 1:6-8, 19-28, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

John: Witness to the Light

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.
What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

[The Gospel according to St. John 1:1-5]

These opening words of St. John’s Gospel make up one of the most beautiful and powerful passages in our Bible. While the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) introduce us to Jesus in simple, concrete, human terms, St. John speaks in lofty terms about God: who exists before all else; who speaks creation into being; who is the source of life; whose gift of life becomes the light for all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

Now, in verse six, the narrative shifts from creation to John, the one sent to prepare the people for the arrival of God’s Messiah, and the contrast continues. (more…)

Preparation, Repentance, Forgiveness

Date: December 10, 2017
Liturgical Day: The Second Sunday of Advent; Year B

John, the baptizer
preparing the way for Christ
the gift of new life

Summary:
The story of John, the Baptizer, stands front and center at the beginning of all four Gospel accounts. We turn to him every Advent, as we explore the importance of baptism in our life together today.

Some discussion Questions:
1. How does John the Baptizer prepare the people to receive Jesus into their lives?
2. In Isaiah 40, what relationship does the prophet envision between the people of Israel and God?
3. Is the promised end of time good news or bad news for us today?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-12-10 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-12-10 TIH

Advent 2B (12/10/2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2nd Peter 3:8-15a
St. Mark 1:1-8

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8.1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

St. Mark 1:1-8, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Baptism of Repentance for the Forgiveness of Sin

Anyone who has paid even modest attention to the season of Advent knows that it is a season of preparation. As John the Baptizer “prepared the way” for the coming of Jesus, Advent prepares the way for the Risen Christ to enter into our lives today. This week’s Gospel lesson helps us to see how this preparation takes place.

St. Mark (the Evangelist) depicts St. John (the Baptist) as a first-century Isaiah. He is dressed like Isaiah. He eats like Isaiah. He speaks truth to power like Isaiah. And perhaps most importantly, like Isaiah, the hope of his ministry is to transform the lives of God’s people.

The transformation sought by St. John has two significant aspects. First, a person comes to understand the extent of his or her sin and brokenness. Second, through the grace, love and forgiveness of God, this sin is forgiven, and a new heart — a new mind — begins to emerge. (more…)

The Return of Christ

December 3, 2017
The First Sunday in Advent: Year B

in a world gone bad
the promise of Christ’s return
source of hope and peace

Summary:
In the “Little Apocalypse of St. Mark” Jesus promises to return to earth one day and gather the elect to God. We may not be living in a time and place where many long for the end to come, but these still can be words of hope for us today.

Some discussion Questions:
1. How do I understand the promised return of Christ to this world?
2. What does Isaiah mean (in 64:8) by “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father?
3. In 1st Corinthians 1:3-9, what does the Apostle Paul notice, and what does he promise?

Download Sermon and Presentation Slides: 2017-12-03 sermon

Download Discussion Questions: 2017-12-03 TIH

Advent 1B (12/3/2017)

Lessons:
Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1st Corinthians 1:3-9
St. Mark 13:24-37

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection waken us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and keep us blameless until the coming of your new day, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake-for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

St. Mark 13:24-37, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A Season of Waiting and Watching

The season of Advent is upon us: four weeks of preparation, designed to make us ready for the celebration of Christ’s birth towards the end of this month. Traditionally, the church has considered this as a time to slow down and to nurture spiritual growth. Advent is often marked by additional weekly opportunities for worship, personal times of devotion and prayer, and attempts to reach out to the community in acts of service. (more…)