Sermon – December 27, 2020 – Christmas 1

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Pastor Wagenknecht  ~  Luke 2:8-20  ~  Christmas 1  ~  December 27, 2020



An imaginary visit with one of the shepherds who saw and heard the angels on the first Christmas night in Bethlehem


Good evening! I am so glad that you could visit me today. I am always happy when people drop in because this gives me an opportunity to tell my story once more. I am an old man now and what happened took place nearly 30 years ago, but I can remember everything that happened that night.

I will start by telling you a little about myself. My name is Jonathan ben David. As my name indicates, I am a descendant of King David. I am also a descendant of Abraham and therefore I am an Israelite. I am proud of my nation for it was Israel that the Lord chose to be his own people. Israel had been given special favor by the Lord God himself. From the days when he led his people out of slavery in Egypt by the hand of Moses down to a few hundred years ago, we were a mighty nation with a place in the world. In fact, we were a world empire under the great King David and his son, Solomon. But this greatness is past and since those days we have suffered humility at the hands of Babylon, Greece, and now Rome. I am also proud to be Judean, but for a much different reason. You see, the Lord also chose our tribe of Judah to receive his promise of a Messiah which he had promised years ago to Adam and Eve.

There are not many of my countrymen left who still believe the word of the prophets of old. There are few who really look forward to the fulfilling of this promise of a Messiah. My family was one of the few that returned from Babylon to this Promised Land. We returned to Bethlehem in Judea because we did believe in those promises. I can still remember the days when I was a child and we would gather for the Passover Feast. My father would read from Moses’ Book of Exodus. When he was done reading, he would teach us about the Passover lamb and explain how this was also a prophecy of the promised Messiah, who would be the real “Lamb of God.” As a child I often prayed that God would fulfill this promise in my lifetime. This faith in God’s Word is the reason my family had stayed several hundred years in the small village of Bethlehem, for the Prophet Micah said the Messiah would be born here.

As I grew up I became a shepherd and took care of my father’s sheep. I loved the work as a shepherd because sheep are so much in need of someone to care for them. Sheep are not even able to find water or grass for themselves if they are lost. So I enjoyed the responsibility of caring for these helpless animals. While we roamed the hills and valleys around the little town of Bethlehem, I would find the best grass for my sheep, which I loved like pets. In fact, I even had names for some of my favorite sheep. The sheep knew me by the sound of my voice and if I wanted them to follow me, I would call out their names or sing a song. One of my favorite songs was written by another shepherd, David. I loved to sing his song:  The LORD is my shepherd: I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. Surely the Lord is the perfect Good Shepherd and so this song was even more meaningful to me because I could understand how I am like a lost sheep that needs leadership and care.

On that special night about which I want to tell you, I was watching my sheep in the fields by night, and I joined several other shepherds around a common campfire. We let our flocks mingle together, and we sat enjoying the fire in the cold winter night air. It was one of those brilliant nights when the stars were shining in all their beauty and you could see their reflection in the Great Sea to the West and the outline of the Judean hills to the East. On a hilltop nearby the village of Bethlehem was visible with its glimmering lanterns and the central fire in the village inn.

While we sat around the campfire that night, we were talking about many things, but I do remember one long discussion we had about “The Hope of Israel,” which was the common name for the promise of the Messiah. I told the other shepherds about the many prophecies in the Scriptures by Moses, Isaiah, Micah, and Malachi. One of the other shepherds sort of surprised me when he said that as a child he often hoped that it would happen in his lifetime. That was my dream, too. We talked about this for hours, but we also decided that we would probably never see that day because it had been over 400 years since the last prophet spoke about him. About midnight we decided to get some sleep, and we wrapped up in our warm cloaks and inched closer to the fire.

THEN SUDDENLY THE SKY BEGAN TO LIGHT UP. We looked up but the light was blinding and we hid our faces in our cloaks and fell to the ground in terror. Then we heard a voice saying, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.” When I looked up, I saw the form of a man, or was it an angel? The angel said, “Unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord.” I couldn’t believe it at first. The Messiah had come? Then the sky was filled with a multitude of these heavenly messengers and the glory of the Lord made the heavens brighter than noon-day and the angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Then as suddenly as they had come, they were gone, and the night was dark and still. It took a while before anyone spoke. “What is this?” “A Savior?” “Is this the promised Messiah?” “In the city of David?” We had to find out if this was all true and we forgot about our sheep and hurried into town.

While we were heading to Bethlehem, we began to wonder how we could find a little baby in the town which was so crowded with many strangers. You see, the Roman government had demanded that people return to their ancestral towns to be registered for a census that would determine the taxation. As we scrambled up the hill toward the town, we noticed the bright light of the central fire at the inn. We went into the inn and began to look around. Around the central courtyard with its fire there were three sided booths closed by a curtain on the side toward the fire. We walked around the inn listening for the cry of a baby and asking people we met.

Then we remembered the words of the angel that the baby would be lying in a manger, so we hurried out back to the stable. When we looked in, we could see the animals and in the far corner there was a light, and we saw two people. As we approached them, we noticed a little baby between them sleeping in a small manger box, wrapped in swaddling clothes.

My heart was pounding with excitement and joy. I hurriedly told the man what had happened to us out on the hillside when the angels appeared to us. Then I recognized the man; it was Joseph ben David from Nazareth, a distant cousin who had moved away from Bethlehem. Joseph began to tell us about the angel who appeared to him and told him that his fiancée Mary was with child by the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit. She was to give birth to the Son of the Most High God and he would sit on the throne of his father David. He was told to take Mary into his own home as his wife and to name the baby Jesus. The name Jesus means Savior, and this name confirms that this is the promised Messiah. All my hopes and desires were answered in those few short hours nearly 30 years ago.

How difficult it was to leave the stable that night, but I was filled with happiness and rushed home and told everyone in my family of the great things that we had seen and heard. Since it was getting light in the morning, I rushed about town waking my friends and sharing my story. They all wondered at the things such humble shepherds were telling them. I also heard that Joseph and Mary found a house in which to stay.

In the days that followed I returned to the sheep that I had left at the camp site, and I spent those days glorifying and praising God for all that I had heard and seen. It was true! I thought a lot about the meaning of that great event:  THAT THE LONG AWAITED MESSIAH HAD COME to Bethlehem. Born in a stable. Wrapped in swaddling clothes. Lying in a manger. I pondered the humble way in which he had come. He is Immanuel = God with us. This is a message that I have been telling over and over and am still telling to all who will listen. I am glad that you came today to hear this most heartwarming story. You can imagine the great joy with which I now sing that song to my sheep, “The LORD is my Shepherd.”

Sometime after this I heard the story told around Bethlehem that King Herod – a terrible and fearsome man – had sent soldiers to kill all the baby boys in town who were under 2 years old. This disturbed me greatly for I was afraid for the life of the Christ-child. These years have been long years of waiting. It has been 30 years since his birth, and I had heard nothing more about the Messiah until a few days ago. The word was all over that a great prophet was teaching and baptizing in the wilderness near the Jordan River. Could this be the Messiah? I followed the crowds out to see this man who was not called Jesus but was called John. He preached that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He told us to repent of our sins and to be baptized. I stayed out there and had a chance to tell John my story about the angels and their wonderful tidings of great joy. Then John told me that this child is now grown and truly is the long-awaited Savior of the world. The very next day as I listened to John preaching, he suddenly stopped. He pointed to a man walking toward him and cried out: BEHOLD! THE LAMB OF GOD THAT TAKETH AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD. My heart is filled with the same excitement and joy I felt in the stable in Bethlehem. God has kept his promise. He has sent the Savior.

I still tell this story to all who will listen. I hope what I saw, and what I heard, and what brought me such great joy has done the same for you. You, too, need this Messiah. Christ is your Savior. Listen to the good tidings of great joy, “Unto you is born this day a Savior which is Christ the Lord.” And join the angelic song:  “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

Sermon – December 24, 2020 – Christmas Eve

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Pastor Jacobson  ~  December 24, 2020  ~  Romans 8:32

32He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?


Two years ago, on Christmas morning, a 7-year-old boy living in Canada called 9-1-1. The reason that boy called 9-1-1 is because he opened a Christmas gift and it was snow pants. Evidently the 7-year-old boy wasn’t happy about receiving snow pants for Christmas and thought someone else in authority should know what an unpleasant experience this was for him. Obviously, none of you 7-year-olds or any-year-olds should call 9-1-1 because you are disappointed in a gift you have received, but I think we can all relate to that 7-year-old boy. It’s been a disappointing year. So many things canceled. So many things were not what we wanted or expected. Even on this Christmas Eve night, it’s kind of hard not to be disappointed like that 7-year-old boy.      

I wonder if disappointment is a word that could be used with the first Christmas. There was so much promise leading up to that first Christmas. We heard some of those promises in our Bible readings tonight. In Genesis 3 Jesus was described as the Head-Crusher of Satan. In Isaiah 11 Jesus is the Great Restorer of Israel. In Micah 5 Jesus has Ends-of-the-Earth Greatness. What promise! But had someone peeked into the stable that night and seen a tiny baby with two poor parents, they might very well have thought to themselves like that 7-year-old boy, “That’s it? How disappointing.” On this particular Christmas, a Christmas many will look back on as disappointing, let’s look at the manger through the lens of Romans 8:32. Even in a disappointing year we have nothing about which to be disappointed. This child is the greatest gift – a testimony of God’s love and an assurance of God’s promises.

  1. A testimony of God’s love

The angels saw the baby for who He was. The baby in the manger was God’s Son from all eternity. Think of all the experiences God the Father and God the Son shared. They worked side-by-side creating the world. Then they went through the world-wide flood together. They went through the days of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, promising them a great nation. They served that nation together as they rescued God’s people from slavery in Egypt. Together they received honor and glory from the Psalms of King David and the worshippers in Solomon’s temple. With all these shared experiences, imagine how close the Father and the Son were. And yet, the Father did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.

It used to be a Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary tradition that the professors would share their “Most Memorable Christmas” stories with the students. At one of those gatherings Professor Siegbert Becker shared a heartbreaking story about his newborn son. On his baby’s first Christmas morning, Professor picked up his son only to find that his son had died. Professor Becker shared this story with his students not to make them feel sad or weird, but to make this point, “It was then that I knew how much God loved me, that he was willing to give up his Son for me.”

The baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger is the greatest gift – a testimony of God’s love. He was born for us. He died for us. Between those two events, he lived for us. He experienced all our hardships and disappointments, but not in the same way that we do when we so easily and repeatedly break God’s holy will for our lives and then fear his eternal punishment. Instead the sinless Son of God shouldered the sins of a broken world and suffered hell in order to become the only way to a better world, a heavenly world. Even in a disappointing year, we have nothing to be disappointed about this Christmas. We have the greatest gift – God’s Son – a testimony of God’s love and an assurance of God’s promises.

  1. An assurance of God’s promises

Next year in 2021, Lord-willing, we will get the 2020 Olympics. Some of those events are decided by the stopwatch. Other events are decided by degree of difficulty. Yes, the top gymnasts may all stick the landing and the top divers might not make a single splash, but who had the greater degree of difficulty? The triple back flip twister has a higher degree of difficulty than a single summersault in the air. When Paul writes Romans 8:32 he writes about two events with different degrees of difficulty. Not sparing his own Son from coming into our world had the higher degree of difficulty. Giving us all things through Jesus has a much lower degree of difficulty. Giving us all things is like an Olympic gymnast doing a summersault.

Because of Christmas, you can be sure God will send his angels to guard you (Psalm 91). Because of Christmas, you can be sure God will be with you wherever you go (Joshua 1). Because of Christmas, you can be sure God will work out all things, including this Covid Christmas, for your good and that nothing can separate you from his love (Romans 8). Because of Christmas, Jesus will come back for us and take us to be with him in heaven (John 14). You may have lost a dearly loved believer this year, but in the manger is the baby who will take you to see your lost one in heaven. You may be hurting for money this year, but in the manger is the baby who owns heaven and earth and he is by your side and your help in every need. You may be nervous about your future, but in the manger is a baby who came for you and will never leave you nor forsake you. 

Look in the manger. Humanly speaking, the Gift looks small and fragile, and maybe even disappointing. You might even ask, “That’s it?” But look again in the manger through the lens of Romans 8:32 and you will say, “That’s it! That’s the Gift I need. God loves me. God forgives me and God takes care of me. That’s the Greatest Gift and I have it in the baby lying in a manger. Amen.

Sermon – December 25, 2020 – Christmas Morning

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David R. Clark  ~  1 John 3:1-2  ~  December 25, 2020


1See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.

God’s richest blessings of joy and salvation to all of you.

Do you remember that old Sesame Street skit, “One of these things is not like the others?” I don’t know what it is for you, but there’s no question in my mind. When it comes to the Christmas story, it’s the shepherds. They just don’t fit.

Mary fits. She’s the mother of the Christ child.

Joseph fits. He’s Mary’s husband and a special protector of the Christ child.

Angels fit. They are messengers sent from heaven. They were God’s glorious communicators about this thing which had come to pass.

The star and the Magi fit. The priests/scholars/astronomers were fulfilling God’s prophecy, but they needed some divine intervention (the star) to find the child.

Obviously Jesus fits. He’s the whole reason for all of the rejoicing.

But the shepherds? No, to me the shepherds just don’t seem to fit. They are the innocent bystanders, the people who were in the right place at the right time. An afterthought? Well, not to God, but they can sure seem that way to you and me. They are the only ones who don’t really seem to have any “skin in the game.” They are all strangers. They probably never met Mary or Joseph before. Maybe they never saw them or Jesus ever again. We don’t really know.

That’s why, for me, it’s the shepherds. Shepherds were there to greet and worship baby Jesus. Imagine Queen Elizabeth inviting a bunch of local farmers to come and celebrate Christmas with her at Buckingham Palace. That’s never going to happen.

What does this have to do with us? A lot! My dear ones! I cannot express to you how full of love my heart is for you this Christmas. We have had an interesting 2020 to say the least. We have shared some great blessings this past year. Births, confirmations, marriages, growth in faith. Somehow I think that those are not the first thoughts that come to mind when someone says 2020. People have lost jobs. People have lost people. This year has made some of our Christians really lazy spiritually. I think we all shudder at the nightmare two-headed monster: political instability and COVID-19. It’s in what we hear. It’s in what we see. Frankly it’s what we say to each other also.

Not today. Today is different. Because shepherds, who had no business being there got invited to worship the Savior of the world. And today, we are the shepherds. We have no connection with Mary and Joseph or even Jesus in and of ourselves. Today we are in the right place at the right time. A bunch of spiritual beggars just hit the royal jackpot.

Maybe you have heard of, “Operation Santa Claus.” One of our local car dealers, every December for the past twenty years, gathers food and toys for kids who aren’t really sure where their next meal is going to come from. It makes the gifts they get probably the most lavish gift they will receive all year.

  1. He sent a child!

Dear fellow shepherds, today is, “Operation baby in the manger.” You are receiving the most lavish gift you will ever receive. That gift is the most important birth the world will ever know. It’s more important than a child born to the residents of Buckingham palace, even more important than our own children. This child is a lavish gift for the whole world, even you and me. In a time of hopelessness and sorrow, he brings joy. In a time when nothing seems to go right, he is the rightest thing, because he came to save us. Dear fellow shepherd, you are invited to his birth.

  1. He calls you his child!

There is more. Imagine if those shepherds were there in the stable with Mary and Joseph and before they left they had adopted every one of them into their family! Imagine that among all of the titles they could use for Jesus, in addition to King and Savior and Prince of Peace, they could also call Jesus “brother.”

Mary and Joseph didn’t do that. But God did. God adopted them as his own with all of the privileges and benefits and responsibilities of a member of God’s family. Dear fellow shepherd, he did for you, too!

So on this Christmas Day in the year 2020, I’m looking at the shepherds. I’m looking at what they got. I’m pondering how many times they sat around campfires and told that story of the baby in Bethlehem. I’m thinking about the smiles on their faces in the midst of a pretty cruel existence, and I’m smiling, too. Won’t you smile with me and REJOICE AT GOD’S LAVISH GIFT OF LOVE. Amen.

Sermon – December 20, 2020 – Advent 4

Printable PDF:  12-20-2020 Advent 4 Sermon

Pastor Mark R Jacobson  †  Advent 4  †  December 20, 2020  †  Luke 1:26-38


26In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32He 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, 33and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 35The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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. 36Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37For no word from God will ever fail.” 38“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.


God Mails You His Advent Greeting

It’s kind of fun to go to the mailbox these days, isn’t it? Throughout the year we go to the mailbox and all we get are advertisements and bills, but at this time of year we can go to the mailbox and receive mail from people we know. It might be a Christmas card. It might be a family picture on a postcard. The Christmas mail might include a letter or even a gift. Christmas greetings like these are fun to receive so, as you are able, send your Christmas card with a picture or maybe a letter and in some cases a small gift.

  1. You are highly favored in his coming.

In today’s Gospel we receive our first Christmas card, technically it’s an Advent card. The Advent card tells us Jesus is coming. This mail comes directly from heaven. God is the sender. The angel Gabriel is the mail carrier. The first recipient of this Advent greeting is Mary. Luke, the evangelist and previously a physician, gives us a written record of this Advent greeting and the conversation that transpired. The main message God wants to communicate to Mary is in his Advent Greeting and is repeated in the conversation with the mail carrier, “You … are highly favored.” You have found favor with God.”

When we think of someone we favor, maybe a person we would even call our favorite, we typically think of him or her as having some kind of likeable quality. What quality did Mary have that made her so highly favored? Was Mary a good child for her parents? Did she get good grades and play a musical instrument? Would Mary having been voted by her peers to the Homecoming Court in high school or have been selected by coaches as an all-conference player in a sport? What credentials, what likeable qualities, did Mary have that made her so favored with God? All we know from Mary’s past is that she is a virgin as all unmarried people should be and that she is pledged to be married to a man named Joseph. The Holy Spirit didn’t think it was consequential for us to know about Mary’s credentials as a mother of the coming Savior, but the Holy Spirit did think it was consequential for us to know about the credentials of Mary’s Son.

What was shared with Mary has been shared with us. “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever, his kingdom will never end.” Did you catch all 5 credentials? He will be #1 great, one of a kind, great. He will #2 be called the Son of the Most High, conceived by God the Holy Spirit. He will #3 have King David’s throne, and he will rule #4 over the entire family of Jacob or all of God’s people, and he will #5 rule in a way King David did not, in a kingdom that will have no end. This was the Advent Greeting given to Mary and there is a part of this Greeting that is unique to Mary, but this part about her Son universally applies to us all.   

Isaiah the prophet once wrote these familiar words not only to Mary, but also to us, “For TO US a child is born, TO US a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Mary was uniquely favored in Jesus’ coming, and we’ll talk about that in a few minutes, but Mary was also universally favored in Jesus’ coming, and so are we. Like us, Mary was a sinner. Like us, Mary received a sinful nature from her parents that only enabled her to sin. Like us, Mary did not meet God half way. Like us, in his grace God came to Mary with the good news – a Savior is coming! Like us, Mary needed a Savior who would be born of a woman and born under law to redeem her from breaking God’s law, so she could have the full rights of a child of God (Galatians 4:4). Like us, Mary needed a Savior who was true God so that his obedient life and sacrificial death would count for her salvation. Mary’s virginity didn’t make Jesus great, but Mary’s virginity assured her, as it assures us, that Jesus is the Savior we need, the Savior we have. Like Mary, the Lord is with us. Like Mary, we don’t need to be afraid.

  1. You have a role in his coming.

This mail from God delivered by Gabriel to Mary is a universal Advent Greeting. It applies to all of us, but there is an aspect of this greeting that is unique to Mary. It addresses her specific role in the coming of Jesus. Gabriel speaks to Mary and says, “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.” “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on 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 unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

Mary would be the mother of Jesus. That was her role. No other human being would have this role. Naturally, Mary had questions. More than the single question we have in our text. And from what we learn in the Gospels the situations weren’t always perfect. Her husband Joseph had plans to divorce her. There would be no room for them at the Inn. King Herod would attempt to assassinate Jesus as an infant. Mary would have her stumbles as a parent, too. Mary wasn’t perfect, but with the strength God provided Mary was as she said to the angel Gabriel, “…the Lord’s servant.”

To be the Lord’s servant was never a part of God’s saving plan for Mary or for the world, but being the Lord’s servant was a statement of Mary’s faith in God and his Word. It’s not a heavy burden or a belittling feeling to serve some who loves you. Serving the Lord is an act of love that recognizes his act of love. We love because he first loved us. How can we love and serve like Mary served? We can’t parent the Son of God, but we can serve Jesus by faithfully parenting and mentoring the unique children God has put into our lives. We will never go through what Mary and Joseph went through as husband and wife, but married couples all have their own unique set of circumstances and need God’s grace to faithfully carry out their roles. We haven’t had an angel speak to us directly like Mary had, but God does speak to us every day in his Word, and he says things that challenge our understanding as well. With the strength God provides we want to be a servant of everything he says.

Our day is still coming when God sends his angel for us. Our day is still coming when we see our Savior face to face. Then we will know by experience just how favored all of us are. Then we will know what the Lord wants each of us to do in his heavenly kingdom. That Advent Greeting is still on its way. Then he will come not as a child or a son, but as King of kings and Lord of lords. And like Mary, through faith, we are ready to receive him. And through the power he bestows we will reign with him. Amen.

Sermon – December 13, 2020 – Advent 3

Printable PDF:  12-13-2020 Advent 3 Sermon

David R. Clark  ~  December 13, 2020  ~  John 1:6-8, 19-28  ~  Advent 3


6There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. …19Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” 21They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” 24Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” 28This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.


Dear friends in Christ,

     Have you ever been outside the city limits at night, beyond the lights and the sound of traffic? Something you might hear is the howling of coyotes. And not just hearing them but also seeing them. They’re really a mangy looking creature.

     Some might say John the Baptist was a mangy looking creature with his rough clothing and bristly look. What he said was also bristly, a voice crying for repentance.

     As Christians we might look a little different because we wear more modest clothing, but I don’t think anyone would say we have a mangy look. But our message qualifies! The voice of John the Baptist comes from us today.

  1. A faithful voice. (verses 19-22)

     In what sense? John’s voice was a faithful voice. 19Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” 21They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

     Did you notice a temptation there? The rest of the religious community wanted to know who John was. But John was not there to talk about himself.

     His identity was not the important question. So he answered by telling them who he was not. He was not the Christ, even though he preached about him. He was not Elijah, even though he probably looked like him. He was not the Prophet, even though he was sent by God. He was a faithful voice warning them to get their spiritual house in order.

     Sometimes it’s better that we define ourselves by who we are not. Although we have a heart for the poor, we don’t exist to feed them. Although we want to be good citizens, po­litics are not our main concern. Issues like that can be so tempting for a church that many churches make them the heart of why they exist. Many people in our community think that’s why we are here.

     But that’s not even close to why we are here. Just like John we are here to be a voice crying in this wilderness. Like John, we are here to point to Jesus. And that’s not always easy. When you consider all of the different concerns that people who are members of our church have, or the concerns of all those who visit us or who watch us online have, it would be easy to stumble. But like John, we are here to faithfully point to Jesus and what he has done for us.

  1. A humble voice. (verses 23-27)

     Faithfully sharing that message can be a very humbling experience. John certainly found that to be true. 23John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” 24Now the Pharisees who had been sent 25questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. 27He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

     Most of us are proud of what we have accomplished in life. From an athletic trophy to our trophy families, we all have something to point to.

     John the Baptist had so much of which to be proud. John was related to Jesus. Jesus himself said there was no one on earth that was greater than John the Baptist. But John didn’t use his fame or his notoriety to draw attention to himself because he knew that’s not why he existed. He was in this world to point to Jesus, the Savior of the world.

     We have parts of our ministry of which we can and should be proud. We have had a ministry with formal Christian Education for almost a century in this congregation. We have a building of which many would be envious. We have a music program that makes us stand out. There are many more we could point to. But these are only important when they point to Jesus. God has placed us here to humbly do his work and preach his message. Our strength and our glory is not in ourselves, but in God who claimed us as his own, called us as his own, and who equips us with his Word to carry out his work.

  1. A voice with a mission. (verses 6-8)

     John recognized first and foremost why he was on earth. 6There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. 8He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

     John came to bring the light of the gospel into a world overwhelmed by the darkness of sin. His mission was not to be the light, but to be the vessel that pointed to the light.

     We are here to tell people about Jesus, to be the vessels through whom the light of the gospel shines into all of the confused and searching hearts in this world. It’s our job to show them that the answer to life’s problems is a Savior who is coming to rescue us from this sin-darkened world. Our message is the message of repentance, a recognition that our hearts need first, more than anything.

     They don’t know it, but the whole world is counting on us. We are John the Baptist.  We are the coyote. We are the voice that still cries in the wilderness. Amen.


Sermon – December 6, 2020 – Advent 2

Printable PDF:  12-6-2020 Advent 2 Sermon

Pastor Mark R Jacobson  ~  Advent 2  ~  December 6, 2020  ~  Mark 1:1-8

1The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” 4And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”


The opening verse of Mark’s gospel introduces a change we have never seen in the history of our world. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” You have to turn back to Genesis chapter one verse one to find a comparable change. At that time the world was formless, empty, and dark, and in the course of 6 days, the world changed:  land and light; the sun, moon, and stars; vegetation; all kinds of animals; and humanity. We see all of those same things today. What a change God made when he created the world!

We have that same kind of drastic change in today’s gospel. Jesus is the good news of great joy that is for all the people. This is the best news since God said to God, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26). The sharing of this good news ought to be spectacular, but it isn’t. With the most important news our world has ever heard, our God chooses to operate with inconceivable lowliness. “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ – ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” There ought to be an army of messengers, but there’s only one. That one messenger ought to be described as having charisma and personality, but all we are told of him is he has a voice. The messenger ought to set up shop in Jerusalem or Rome, but he works in the wilderness. People will have to walk a long way, through hills and valleys to just hear him. And what will the messenger say? Only what Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God wants him to say. The messenger will preach of repentance.

  1. Be diligent, not complacent, about repentance.

Repentance is a difficult message to preach. Repentance is an even more difficult message to listen to. God through the prophet Isaiah compares repentance to road construction and says, “make straight paths for him.” Straight paths is a tall task in the wilderness. The wilderness is full of obstacles. There aren’t many straight paths. Even in our modern society straight paths are hard work. Try to count the number of orange and white barriers on your way home today, if indeed you can count them. Still more difficult than straight paths in the wilderness of this world are straight paths in the wilderness of the human heart. This was the construction work John the Baptist did in his preaching of repentance. Other Gospel writers share how John spoke to people directly about their stations and situations in life. John spoke to soldiers about taking bribes and to tax collectors cheating tax payers. John rebuked King Herod for his affair and religious leaders for their hypocrisy.

What would God have said to you about your station and situation in life? Do you have a sin that needs straightening out? Are you addressing it with God’s Word or are you taking the chance God won’t care that much on the Day of Judgment? Do you have a mountain of arrogance that needs to be made low? Are you treating people poorly because you think you are better than they? Do you have a valley of self-pity that needs filling in? Are you avoiding people and serving them because you think they are better off without you? Be diligent, not complacent, about repentance! Some would rather ignore sin, putting a blindfold over the eyes of their conscience. They’d rather alibi for sin, pointing to others who are worse. They’d rather sugarcoat sin with sweet phrases like “cultural change.” But John preaches about sin in plain terms, and I better listen. If the good news of Jesus is going to mean anything to me, I need to know how much I need Jesus as my Savior. Is the good news for all, good news for you? Be diligent, not complacent, about repentance. Genuine repentance delivers the wonderful result:  the forgiveness of sins.

  1. Be optimistic, not pessimistic, about the gospel.

If you could turn back time and undo your sin, wouldn’t you do that? If you could find a way to unsay the sinful words that hurt people, wouldn’t you take back those words? You can’t undo what has been done. You can’t make pure and holy what has become polluted and stained, but listen to the voice of this preacher, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

“More powerful than I,” John the Baptist says. John the Baptist was powerful. In verse 8 alone John the Baptist sees the finish line of Jesus’ great work of salvation. John the Baptist sees the ascended Savior sending the Holy Spirit on people in a powerful way. Yet the disparity of powerful is so great John the Baptist declares himself unfit to stoop down and untie the straps of his sandals.

How powerful is this Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God? He undoes what can’t be undone. He washes away what can’t be washed away. So great is what he does we should never hear the absolution or witness a baptism in the same way again. In baptism God takes a baby into his arms and washes away all of his sins for all of time. In the absolution I am reminded God has not changed his opinion about me even though week after week I change back and forth from serving him and sinning against him.  

The good news is so great the messenger does not need a prime location and an army of messengers. The messenger doesn’t need to dress to impress or pretend to be something she isn’t. Just a voice will do and the people will change. Mark reports, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Other Gospel writers share more fully the problems John the Baptist had in his ministry. Not everyone confessed their sins and were baptized, but many of them did confess their sins and were baptized and changed their lives.

Be optimistic, not pessimistic, about the gospel. People can change. That is why Jesus came into this world. That is why Jesus sent John to be his messenger. That is still why Jesus still sends messengers today. Some of those messengers, like John the Baptist, are called workers. Other messengers have this calling as a Christian father or mother. At times, children and little children have served as God’s messengers, and Lord-willing, they will do so again in a couple of weeks, and Spirit-willing, the adults will confess their sins and be changed. Once God spoke his Word and brought change through the mouth of a donkey. God can bring positive change through your speaking, too.

Be optimistic, not pessimistic about the gospel. People can change, but that means you must change as well. Let God’s Word and sacraments change you. Trust your baptism. You are truly forgiven. Let God speak to you through your Bible reading, your pastors’ preaching and teaching, and Christian conversations so that you may live the life God wants you to live in his name. The great change of Mark chapter 1 verse 1 was the greatest change since Genesis 1:1, but there is still one more great change we are pondering during this Advent season and in this New Testament time. In the future Jesus will change our bodies to be like our glorious bodies. At that time he will give us new clothes, a white robe we will wear all the days of our eternity. It will be another new beginning with Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God made possible through the good news we’ve heard today. That Day of Judgment won’t be good news for all, but through faith, through the hard work of repentance, Jesus will come with good news of salvation for you and for all who believe as you do. Amen.