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Pastor Mark Nieting
Matthew 3: 13-17

Muddy Water by Trace Adkins

“There’s a man in me I need to drown.
Baptize me in that muddy water. Wash me clean in amazing grace.
I ain’t been living like I oughta. Baptize me in that muddy water.”

When you saw that video clip, did it bring to mind the typical “Lutheran” baptisms we are so accustomed to seeing: Beaming parents bringing their beautiful baby wearing the “family baptismal gown” (now on its 3rd generation of wearers) up to the decorated font with the pastor in his robes, the acolyte ready with the baptismal candle, the Sacrament itself, and then a trip around the sanctuary while we all sing “More Precious Than Silver.” We have to admit that for most of us, our mental images of baptism are far closer to what I just described than either Mr. Atkin’s video clip, or even the baptism of Jesus. At least on the outside, that is!

Truth be told, if we wanted to be baptized where Jesus was, it’s not even LEGAL today. The Israeli government has banned people from “dipping in the Jordan” anywhere near the traditional site of Jesus’ baptism. That once-mighty river, the river that Joshua and the Israelites crossed with the help of God, the river that kept David safe from his enemies, the river Elijah divided with his coat, the river where John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, that river is so dirty and polluted that if we WERE to be baptized there, even by sprinkling, we’d probably end up with some kind of disease or infection.

Who wants the result of their baptism to be bad for them, right? After all, our understanding of baptism is clear: God’s Holy Spirit calls us to the water, where He washes our sins away and brings us into the family of Jesus Christ. Baptism is, using Luther’s Words, the “washing of regeneration.” All of those things are GOOD for us, in the now and into eternity. They aren’t blessings we can bring onto ourselves, they are given to us by God, which is what baptism DOES, and it all started in the Jordan River, where John the Baptist met Jesus.

All of God’s people have jobs to do….and John’s job was to get God’s people cleaned up ritually and spiritually for the coming of the Messiah. John took his job seriously, focusing his work in the Jordan River as close as he could get to the major population center of Jerusalem. That’s where the baptism of Jesus took place, not up north in the Sea of Galilee, close to Jesus’ hometown.

We have all sorts of images of faith in our hearts and minds……many of them involving baptism. The Jews of Jesus’ day had all sorts of images…..and many of them involved the travel through water. Water was THEIR symbol of liberation.

A few examples: By God’s command, Noah had built the ark and God used it to preserve their ancestors from death in the flood. After 400 years in Egyptian slavery, God delivered them through the Red Sea and drowned Pharoah and his army behind them. Then, after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness their ancestors had crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, both a “grand entrance” and a “final deliverance,” or so they thought.

Honestly, friends, how did things go for the Jews after they entered the Promised Land? Was it all “milk and honey,” “peaches and cream?” Did they all live happily ever after? We know the answer to that…….there were battles to be fought, and when they trusted in God, those battles were won. There were “giants in the land,” overcome again only with God’s help. There were temptations of any and every sort…..and far too often God’s people succumbed, from the kings down to the peasants. But…..here’s the promise in all of this….God was, and God still IS, faithful to His people.

We can visit the same question on Jesus. After HIS baptism, how did things go with HIS life? The very next verses of Matthew’s Gospel take us, and Jesus, straight from His baptism to 40 days of fasting in the desert and temptation by the devil. Before He could even begin His mission of our redemption, Jesus was tested and tempted in ways we can only begin to imagine and pray we will never have to face………trials and tribulations all the way to His death on the cross.

The baptism of Jesus helps us understand our baptisms. The story of His baptism IS a glorious story. There is Jesus’ humility in presenting His sinless self to John, humility that reflects in our understanding that there is NOTHING any one of us can do to win, earn or deserve God’s love and forgiveness. There is the Voice of the Father from heaven proclaiming Jesus’ Sonship and the presence of the Spirit in the dove over the waters….what a wonderful image of “dry land after the deaths of the flood!”

Each of our baptisms IS a glorious story. It doesn’t matter whether we were baptized as tiny babies or far later in life, the fact is, God made it happen. He called us out of our sinful lives into the light of His truth. Baptism washes the stain of original sin from our hearts and….. I love this language…..”marks us as ones redeemed by Christ the crucified.”

It may not be a historical Lutheran tradition, but a lot of Christians make the sign of the cross sometime during worship, some of us at the mention of the Trinity, others when the Absolution of Sins is pronounced. It helps us remember our baptism. It is a symbol of our identity. It’s who we are. We are Christians!

It also marks us as being prepared for hazardous duty, because where our Jesus went, we are also called to go. When we come out of the water of OUR baptisms, we don’t only take on the Name of Jesus, we also take on the Mission and the Message of the ONE whose name has marked us.
Scripture is clear (Luke 15:7 and 10) that the angels of heaven rejoice whenever a sinner responds to the call of the Holy Spirit and repents. But at the same time we are marked with the name of Jesus, we are also marked as enemies of the devil and all who are under his control……and therein, my dear friends, is both the problem and the challenge.

Permit me a historical example. During the time of the Soviet Union in Russia, the communist government had outlawed all religious practices. Christian parents who dared to bring their children to a church to be baptized were assured that if the government knew about it, those kids would never be allowed to attend a university. The simple mark of baptism meant that they would be blacklisted. That’s a discussion I’ve never had to have when I’ve done “pre-baptismal counseling!”

How about something more recent? Last summer a medical team working in Afghanistan was ambushed and murdered by the Taliban. There were six Americans, one German, one Brit and two Afghans…..and all of them were Christians who had put their faith into action to help people they loved. They were accused of being spies and trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

These examples might seem a bit extreme, and they may be, but the fact remains that when we are baptized, two things happen: First, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, steps into OUR unrighteousness to bring us HIS righteousness. There is nothing in the entire universe that can compare with that! But second, in taking the mark of Christ upon us, the sinful world marks US as its enemy.

It may be as subtle as sleeping in on Sundays or the constant conundrum of the choice between soccer or confirmation classes…….but the conflict is there……and so is the promise of Jesus, that where His people are, so is He also! Remember that at the moment of YOUR baptism, the angels in heaven rejoiced and the voice of God the Father also proclaimed YOU as His beloved Child in whom He is well pleased. You may not have heard it in the physical sense, but the promise is there nevertheless……God will not abandon you nor will He forsake you…….His care for you is as deep and as wide as all of creation.

Martin Luther reminds us that ever morning when we wake up and splash water into our faces, we are to remember our baptism…..and give thanks to God that Jesus brought His righteousness into our lives. Holy Scripture reminds us that all this happened in God’s plans even before He created the world. And in the words of the song with which I began this message, Trace Adkins reminded us that there are still things in our lives that need to be “drowned in the muddy waters.”

That’s just another way of saying that God is not done with me….or with you…just yet. He’s still cleaning us up, filling us daily, and renewing His promises that He is with us always…..as we go about making disciples of all nations.
And just how do we do that………? By baptizing them! On and on it goes! Amen!

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Pastor Michael Cofer
Luke 2:40-52

Today’s gospel reading is unique in that it offers us the only story in all of scripture in between Jesus’ birth and the start of His ministry some 30 years later. Luke is the only gospel writer who shares this account with us, which makes me wonder why he decided this particular story was important enough to make the final cut of his gospel.

Strictly speaking, nothing miraculous happens. In fact, if anything it seems like we see Jesus being a bit disobedient and his parents being grossly negligent. This is all the more punctuated for us because we’re still in the fading glow of Christmas, and even Luke’s gospel skips the 10 or 12 years between the magi and today’s story.

So what are we supposed to make of this account? Is the point that Mary and Joseph are only human – that they weren’t perfect parents? Well, I’d say that’s a fair conclusion, but I think we can go a bit deeper than that.

When Luke writes about Jesus growing up, he says that the child grew in wisdom and in grace. People tend to put a premium on wisdom. Everyone recognizes the value of being wise or having wise friends. Wisdom can yield tangible, material benefits. Solomon, for example, was incredibly wealthy, with a very successful career.

Grace, on the other hand, is a lot harder for people to see the value in. Grace can sometimes stand in opposition to worldly wisdom. Grace means giving the benefit of the doubt. It means not demanding repayment for debts you are owed. The wise person never misses an opportunity, but the gracious person never exploits or presses his advantage.

Jesus grew in both wisdom and grace. You can’t fool him, you can’t take advantage of him, and yet, he always gives you better than you deserve. It’s not because he doesn’t know better, but it’s because he loves you.

There was something else about this story that grabbed my attention. The reason Jesus and his family went to Jerusalem was that it was the Passover. Now, for Mary and Joseph, they probably didn’t see the connection between Jesus and the Passover, because this is long before the Last Supper, long before Jesus’ death on a cross. For them, Jerusalem at Passover was a family tradition, and a religious observance. They’d probably made that trip even if Jesus wasn’t part of their family.

But for Luke looking back at this account, and for us as well, it can’t be merely a family tradition. I mean, when I hear about Jesus in Jerusalem for Passover, alarms start going off in my head; something significant is happening.

When I think about the Passover Lamb, I think about the Lamb of God. When I think about the death of the firstborn Son to free the nation from slavery, I think about the Son of God dying to free us from our slavery to sin and death. When I think of the Passover meal, I think of Christ’s body and blood, broken and poured out to give me life. To me, it’s so obvious.

But it wasn’t so obvious for Mary and Joseph. They were so busy with the holiday, with all the family and friends, all the hassle of traveling and the stress that comes with it that… well… they lost sight of Jesus, and didn’t even know it.

And what’s more, it’s not because Jesus snuck off or was elusive. Jesus didn’t go anywhere; it was Mary and Joseph who left him.

We’re in that same place right now. The holiday is pretty much over, and it’s time to go back to life as usual. And it’s tempting to put on the blinders, and just get busy cleaning up the mess, getting caught up at work, making up all the lost time from your vacation… and in the process, leave Jesus back at the church instead of bringing him home with us.

You know what’s great about Jesus, though? He’s always waiting for you here. He doesn’t lose interest and leave. He doesn’t chew you out or belittle you for messing up your priorities.
So maybe if you are like me, and you’ve spent a lot of this past Christmas too busy with stuff to actually give Jesus the attention, let’s head back to the temple and bring Jesus home with us this time.

Gracious Lord Jesus, You are the most important thing in all the world. Forgive me being too busy for You. Help me commit, this year, to keep you at the center of my focus. Don’t let me leave without You today, or ever again. Thank you for your undeserved love and forgiveness. In your precious name I pray, Amen.

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Pastor Mark Nieting
John 1: 1-18 (and Micah 6: 6-8)

Merry Christmas everyone…..on the “Festival of the Nativity” in the year of our Lord two thousand and ten! Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father and our newborn Savior, Jesus Christ!

There’s one “glad tiding” that I know you will rejoice in with me this morning, and that, of course, is the birth of our Savior. That’s the number one piece of Good News, and the true “reason for the season,” the cause of celebration, the root of rejoicing, the happy in the holiday…..and so on and on it goes.

There’s a “lesser tiding” that also goes along with Christmas DAY, a far more mundane one, but I’ll share it nevertheless….the shopping season is over! Honestly friends, how many of you struggled to find the PERFECT gifts again this year? It’s not easy: you know what the challenges are, or shall I say, WHO the challenges are on your shopping lists. It’s those people who already have everything…..or they are so “picky” that buying them the right gift is impossible.

It’s sad, really. We work so hard to find the PERFECT gift, and then it doesn’t fit, it isn’t the right color, it was broken in the box, or the design doesn’t match the one they already have, or…..worst of all, it isn’t what they wanted. You know how it works: they unwrap the present you spent MONTHS selecting, there is a short pause…..just a nanosecond, really, but in that time you already know the truth. They may SAY, “It’s beautiful,” but their eyes have given the truth away……and plop, the joy drains right out of Christmas.

I thought about that again this week….but my thinking actually went in a different direction. What if I were trying to give Jesus a gift for HIS birthday? What would I give Him? Gold….already got it. Frankincense? That too. Myrrh? Not in any catalog I’ve seen. So what??? Hebrews 1 reminds us that He is the Creator of ALL things….so we can’t give Him something He doesn’t already HAVE! What do you give the God who not only HAS everything, but MADE everything?

What does God want from me? What would bring a smile to His face?

Luckily we don’t have to wonder about the answer to those questions, because He’s left us His “wish list……one He wrote in the little book of Micah, about 700 years before the first Christmas. In case you don’t remember him, Micah lived around the same time as Isaiah. His country was a mess…..threatened with enslavement by Assyria, God was completely out of their hearts and minds, and there was moral chaos everywhere. The politicians were corrupt; the merchants were ripping off the poor people; the leaders couldn’t be trusted.

Sounds like Micah’s world of 740 BC was almost identical to our world of 2010.

So Micah, God’s “shoot-straight, pull no punches” prophet wrote this short message to a world no different than ours today; a world filled with people facing difficult issues and serious problems…..and right in the middle of it Micah gives us God’s Christmas list. It’s only 3 verses……let’s unpack it this morning.

Micah begins, in 6: 6, by asking the question: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?” A year-old calf was supposed to be the highest quality sacrifice a person could bring…..would THAT please God? To give Him the best “stuff” we have? The answer, says Micah, is no.

“Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil?” (6:7) If God isn’t happy with QUALITY, perhaps we can go with QUANTITY? Maybe God could be bribed….as if He were a politician! Again, the answer is no.

One more try…..”Shall I offer my firstborn for my sins, the fruit of my body for the sins of my soul?” What a terrible idea THAT would be….especially if you happen to BE the firstborn! Child sacrifice was forbidden by God, but the neighbors of the Jews practiced it frequently…..offer a child, especially your firstborn and then, just maybe, God will forgive us!

Still…the answer is NO. God isn’t playing “Let’s make a deal.”

All these things deal with the outside of people….all these things, even firstborn, are, to the giver, “stuff.” What God WANTS is our hearts.

The prophet Micah sums it all up in one verse (6:8): What does the Lord ask of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Three things…..we might call it “God’s short list.” Justice, mercy and humility. In other words….God wants us….down to the core of our hearts.

No present means anything until it is unwrapped…..so let’s unwrap these 3 words, these 3 ideas for a brief moment this morning before we move on to receiving God’s gifts to US in the body and blood of Christ, waiting here on the altar for us.

Acting Justly? God IS just. God treats each of us fairly. God plays no favorites. In Scripture this concept is applied in some very concrete ways: caring for the poor, remembering widows and orphans (not only at Christmas, but all year long), being honest, with everyone, refusing to take advantage of the less fortunate.

Loving mercy? Micah’s word here is the same one we use in our table prayers, “His mercy endures forever!” It means loving the unlovely even when they don’t love you back….which God does, all the time. It means doing unto others what God has done to us. How has God treated YOU this year? Have our sins been forgiven? Then we are called on to forgive others! Has God overlooked our faults? Then we can overlook the shortcomings of others! Has God blessed us? Then…it’s our JOY to bless others! It’s God’s way of living, and loving.

Finally, “walking humbly with our God.” What’s that? It’s putting the proper perspective on our relationship with God…..He’s God and we’re NOT! It’s realizing that God made us…..that God made everything…..and we belong to Him. If we live that way…..and walk with God that way….not only will WE be blessed, but we will bless others, day in and day out!

That’s what God wants: our hearts…..our souls…..our all, responding to Him and to His love with our own love. That’s why we are here today, because we are giving Jesus the one thing He wants for Christmas: US…..acting in love, in justice, in mercy and walking in humility before our newborn Savior and King!

Merry Christmas!

Amen.

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Pastor Mark Nieting

Merry Christmas! It’s THE Holy Night in church on Christmas Eve. All the preparations and all the decorations that have pointed to this special time and we’ve finally “made it!” Merry Christmas! Just to get into the Spirit a bit better, turn to the person next to you and tell them…. Merry Christmas! (do it) Now one more time, except this time use their name. (do it)

Wait a minute….is the person next to you wearing a name tag? Raise your hand if they aren’t! If you’re a visitor, dear friend, you are forgiven, but again, tell your seat-mate your name and then, let’s do one final Christmas greeting. (again)

Names ARE important, right? By Christmas Eve of 1972 we were ready for our firstborn to happen….and we had already picked his name: He would be called Benjamin Arthur Nieting. Benjamin, because it was a Biblical name we liked, the “favored son” of Jacob; Arthur, one of my grandfathers; and Nieting, no question about that one. He may go by Ben most of the time, but officially, he will always be Benjamin Arthur Nieting. Once we have our names, they stick with us, usually for our entire lives, so parents NEED to give them a lot of thought.
It’s unfortunate, but the majority of babies don’t have a voice in choosing their names. They have to live with what they’re given, live them up or live them down!

In older days your name was a predictor of what your occupation was going to be: Shoemaker or Baker or Tailor come to mind. Some people have multiple names, like Charles Phillip Arthur George Windor, Prince Charles for short, royalty always needs a long name.

So it is with Jesus. Even before his birth, he was a child with many names. 700 years before the first Christmas, the prophet Isaiah wrote that Jesus, the Messiah, would have FOUR names: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, the government will be upon his shoulders. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is 9:6)

The composer Handel wove these names into his most famous work, The Messiah. Most of us have probably seen at least one of the viral You-Tube videos where flash-mob choirs unleashed that song in busy malls, and hundreds of shoppers, who knew at least some of the words, joined in with them!

Each one of those four names unlocks an aspect of Jesus, both when He was born and today, as He relates to us in our lives. These names answer the question in one of our favorite Christmas carols, What Child is This, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping. These four names say wisdom, power, security, and assurance…..all of which we need in our lives.

In the quiet of this Christmas Eve, let’s take a few moments to unpack each of these four titles, beginning with Wonderful Counselor. Literally it means “a wonder of a counselor.” Wonderful means ‘astonishing’ or “extraordinary.” I’ve done a lot of counseling in my lifetime…..as most pastors have…..and those words certainly don’t apply to me. But they DO to Jesus. His plans may not always line up with our plans….but only God’s plans are perfect. Mine aren’t. Yours aren’t. His are: His ways may not be our ways but no one who comes to him will ever be led astray. As Wonderful Counselor, HE is the one who makes the plans! Make one of your new year’s resolutions to spend time in His Word and you will be amazed…..and blessed.

Next is Mighty God. In the tiny baby whose birth we celebrate tonight was invested all the power of the entire universe…..because He created every bit of it! That’s part of being Mighty! And living as we do in a military community, we recognize this is a military term. Literally it means The God who fights for His people…..against every enemy we have from the devil down to our sinful human nature. As Wonderful Counselor He makes the plans. As Might God, He makes the plans work!

But can this tiny baby, this “word made flesh,” as John calls him, be Everlasting Father? How can the son be the father? In Hebrew the phrase means “the father of eternity.” Jesus….who was born when the time was right…..is the possessor of all of eternity. He is beyond time. This isn’t a statement about the Trinity, it’s about the nature of God….and the character of Jesus.
All that a good father is, Jesus is to us. Like a good father, He cares for us. Because He owns eternity, He offers that to us. Because He has conquered death, He offers us the same victory.

Human fathers are important, but they aren’t perfect. Nor are they eternal. But Jesus is both: perfect….and eternal. He is our ”forever father!” He is Wonderful Counselor, so He makes the plans. He is Might God, so He makes the plans work. He is Everlasting Father, so He carries out the plans like a Father who loves His children!

Finally He is, Isaiah tells us, the Prince of Peace, which, on a beautiful, candle-lit (snowy?) Christmas Eve sounds absolutely perfect, right? This final title is the climax of everything we’ve heard so far. It speaks to what happens when He comes. The word PRINCE may sound a tad “less than,” but it means something like “General of the Army.” That speaks to his high position…..remember what the Magi said when they were looking for the newly born “King of the Jews?” And peace…..speaks to his very nature.
You and I live in a world that has a definite lack of peace. Depending on the source there are between 27 and 38 recognized wars going on right now, not counting wars on drugs, wars inside families, gang wars, wars, using the term a bit differently, within relationships and between people.

Finally there is the most dangerous conflict; the most serious war of them all, the war of the devil against our eternal souls that robs us of peace with God now and ultimately, forever. Our consciences remind us of this all the time! While we might not recognize in ourselves an immediate need for a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God and an Everlasting Father, we ALL need peace.

Isaiah tells us that God’s plan for peace is focused on one person, that little baby born in a manger in Bethlehem. The prophet Micah foretold it…..and so did John the Baptist. The angels of Christmas brought the same message about the Christ-child….. He is the ultimate bringer of peace; but the promised peace comes marked with an asterisk! (*)

It’s the peace you have come this evening to receive….the peace that passes earthly understanding. It’s the peace of knowing that Jesus came to win for us forgiveness of our sins……paid for by his suffering and his death. Through our faith in Jesus, our ransom has been paid. God has declared peace with us, not in some fragile, earthly truce, but eternally….forever! This is the reality of our faith. This was the message of the angels. This is the promise of our future. This is the comfort we have during life and as we face death itself. This is eternal life itself….eternal peace with the God who created us and redeemed us.

That’s WHAT THIS CHILD IS, to reverse the words of the hymn we will quietly sing this on this Holiest of Nights. The world may not understand WHO He is or WHAT He came to do, but we do…..and we know the truth.

He is Wonderful Counselor, so He makes the plans. He is Might God, so He makes the plans work. He is Everlasting Father, so He carries out the plans like a Father who loves His children. He is the Prince of Peace, who brings true peace between God and His people.

In this one verse are the Four Names of Jesus. This is what they mean today:
– If life fills you with uncertainty and confusion, He is the Wonderful Counselor.
– If you feel weak and overwhelmed, He is the Mighty God.
– If you are scared, He is the Everlasting Father.
– If your life is filled with trials, He is your Prince of Peace.

Every gift is only useful if it is unwrapped and put to use. The same applies to this Gift of God to you….Jesus Christ. God gift-wrapped Him in the form of a tiny baby in the manger at Bethlehem. Open the gift….allow Him to bless you, and have a very Merry Christmas!

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Pastor Mark Nieting
Matthew 1: 18-24

Ten years ago in a nice suburb of Rochester NY, Peter Lovenheim was walking his dog. He was surprised to see a TV news truck parked down the block. The news wasn’t good: a neighbor 3 doors down had killed his wife and then himself. Their children escaped by running out into the night.

It wasn’t long before a “For Sale” sign went up in front of the crime scene home, but everything else in the neighborhood seemed to go on as if nothing had ever happened. Lovenheim’s comment, in a book he wrote about it, was this: “A family had (tragically) vanished, yet the impact on our neighborhood was slight. How could that be? Do I live in a community surrounded by people whose lives are entirely separate? Is it even possible to build relationships anymore, given how busy people are?”

He pondered the issue for weeks until he decided to do what any normal American suburban man would do: He asked his neighbors if he could sleep in their houses! His daughter thought he was NUTS, but a good number of his neighbors said YES, and out of that experiment, true community was born, one home and one relationship at a time. Lovenheim was the author who slept over.

A similar situation existed about 2000 years ago, when God looked over His creation and saw people not only separated from each other, but separated from Him as well. 2000 years before THAT God had also looked down and, not happy with what He saw, sent the Flood and started over. He was determined not to do that again, so this time God decided to do what no one ever expected a “divine being” to do: He came to sleep over. He came to be “God with us,” Emmanuel.

God’s Prophets had been setting the stage for 2000 years. In today’s Gospel lesson (from Matthew 1), the divine drama begins to unfold; first with the family tree and then with the story itself. God comes to 42nd generation male, named Joseph, and speaks to him in a dream. Joseph is engaged to a young virgin named Mary, who has just discovered that she is pregnant NOT. Joseph knows it is not HIS child, but because they haven’t been living together (this being a far more sensible age than today)….he KNEW there was going to be a scandal in town and Mary would be branded “with the scarlet A.”

Before Joseph could quietly divorce her, it was made very clear to him that “God’s ways are not always our ways.” The angel makes sure that Joseph knows that Mary’s child isn’t a scandal, but a marvelous gift from no one less than the Holy Spirit. The child was to be named Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins, foretold by Isaiah the prophet in these words: The virgin would conceive and give birth to a son and they will call Him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’ (Is 7: 23)

Three questions leap from this text: 1) What did Isaiah mean back then? 2) What did the angel mean when he gifted Mary and Joseph with the news? 3) What does EMMANUEL, God with us, mean to us?

In Isaiah’s day, about 740 BC, Israel was divided into two kingdoms, Israel on the north and Judah on the south. Neither of them was very powerful, especially when compared to the “big dog of the day,” Assyria. The king of Judah, Ahaz, knew that Israel and Syria were unifying against Assyria and wanted him to join their alliance. Napoleon once said that God is on the side with the most battalions, so, against the advice of Isaiah, King Ahaz used the temple treasury to bribe the massive armies of Assyria onto HIS side. King Ahaz must have felt smug and secure……even though Isaiah the prophet had warned him over and over and over to trust in God, not in “slippery alliances or reservoirs of water.”

King Ahaz forgot that his ancestor Gideon once destroyed an entire army with 300 soldiers and God’s angel of death. One more time God invited Ahaz to trust HIM. God offered (7:11) ANYTHING in heaven or earth as a sign and all Ahaz would do was play the pious son. “No thanks, God,” he said, “I can’t tempt you!” Nothing God could say would move Ahaz away from his trust in the armies of his ally Assyria. God gave Ahaz a sign anyway……within the time it took a young woman to bear and wean a son, Assyria would defeat Israel.

Let it be spoken, let it be done…..Assyria carried Israel and Syria off into captivity, and Judah was saved. God had come to be with His people once again, but once again the people didn’t trust God, didn’t thank God, didn’t care about God. Within 30 years Assyria was back…..and by 586 BC Judah itself was carried off into captivity. God was with them…..but they were not with God.

We have enemies that threaten us. Almost every day we’re reminded that terrorists are ready to strike us. The economy worries us. Health issues, taxes, jobs, the future of our kids and our grandkids; we spend a few minutes watching the news and we could all use a sign from God that things are going to be ok!

And if we’re brutally honest about it…..our sin threatens us more than anything else. We know we’ve sinned against God and His Word time and time again. It’s way too easy to be too busy to build our lives on God’s Word. It’s way too easy to get so busy we neglect caring for one another in real Christian community. From the Lord’s perspective, friends, every one of us can give Him a headache!

Finally….. we know that the devil is doing his best to separate us from God and His love for us. Using Luther’s phrase, he’s a sneaky old foe. He’s strong and smart and he’s got thousands of years of experience dealing with people like you and me. What we need the most is for God to move in with us……we need Emmanuel!

God has always come to us through his prophets……the words of Isaiah just two chapters from this morning’s text remind us of countless Old Testament prophecies about “God with us.” ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given….and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.(Is 53: 6-7)

God has always come to us though His apostles in the New Testament. He has “Promised to work all things together for the good of those who love Him.” (Rom 8:28). He has promised NOT to give us more than we can bear. (1 Cor 10: 13) And God has come to us in the words and promises of Jesus Himself, “I will be with you always, even to the end of the earth!” (Matt 28) That’s “God with us!”

Here’s the question of the day: do you trust God to keep His promises? Will He really do these things in YOUR life? What SIGN does He give YOU?

The SIGN is EMMANUEL….God with us! God comes to earth as the Christ child to break down the walls that have divided us from Him and to reconnect us with our creator……to be WITH us in His perfect life, in His death, and in His resurrection. These are Paul’s words in 2 Cor 5:19, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself.”

As I was thinking about that concept, what popped into my mind was this, What things would change in my life if Jesus moved into 1116 Norcova Court, Chesapeake, Virginia? I’m not talking about clean towels in the guest room and a higher hot water bill…..I’m talking about my life! Imagine thatJesus moved in with you!! What would a “sleepover God” discover about any one of us?

What would He think about how busy I am? About how fast I try to get things done? About how tightly scheduled my days are? About how little time I set aside to pray, to read, to study, to meditate? About how shallow I allow relationships to become? About how few of the gifts He has given me I truly “steward” well?

In the middle of the chaos of our lives…..Isaiah and his wife the prophetess; Mary and Joseph; Mark and Pam and all the rest of us…..God sends Immanuel, in the form of a tiny baby to “sleep over with us.”

It’s been 38 years since my first born son Benjamin came into my life…and I can STILL remember how things change. Suddenly I was forced to pay attention to a tiny, helpless individual who was cuter, sweeter, and smarter than any human being who had EVER lived before! I had to pay attention to feedings, diaper changes, and naps. My nights became days….and my days stayed days too. It was nothing less than an entire refocusing of ME.

The same is true with the coming of Jesus to be “Emmanuel, God with us!” Our lives become refocused away from the worries and anxieties of normal living and onto the “peace that passes earthly understanding.” Our sins are forgiven because the Messiah came to sleep over….and He has promised once and again never to leave us and never to forsake us.

In just a few short days we will celebrate Christmas. We’ll enjoy wonderful church services, special family traditions, presents and time off work. But what we will really receive once again is the Sign that God gave us of His eternal and everlasting love, His mercy, His favor, the blessing of His forgiveness, and the promise of life forever with Him. He is the God who came to sleep over….and He is the God who never left. Immanuel……God is with us…….forever.

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Pastor Michael Cofer

My goodness! Look at how many of you there are travelling together! You must be going to see the new king. Or haven’t you heard…?

Well! I guess that would make me the bearer of good news, then! My colleagues and I have been studying the sky for pretty much our entire adult lives. It is our profession, you see.

Many powerful people think that the position and movement of the planets and stars can tell you all sorts of things: whether or not to go to war, whether a drought is coming or not, when they will find true love… all kinds of things. And my job is to study those stars, and figure out what they are trying to tell us.

Truth be told, more often than not I’m just guessing. The stars don’t speak to me in crystal clear language… but the king (my boss) expects me to be able to answer any question he has or else… well, let’s just say that his unemployment plan isn’t very pleasant.

So, yeah… most of the time I “read” either incredibly vague things in the stars, or I just say what the king wants to hear. Better that than the alternative.

That’s why I’m so excited about going to see this new king. For once, the stars were speaking to me, loud and clear. I won’t bore you with the details of my job, but you have to know that the skies are crying out that there was a new king born in the west. I’m not sure where, yet, I’m just following the star until I get there.

Now I don’t mean to speak ill of the king I currently work for. He’s not that bad a guy as far as kings go. But the thing with kings is this: they don’t live forever. Now, if you have a bad, king… that’s probably good news. But even if you have a good king, you know eventually he’s going to… you know… keel over. Then usually, and I do mean usually, the next king isn’t as good. And the one after him is even worse.

I mean, you’ve read the history books; you know how kingdoms rise and fall. And with each new would-be king, there’s a whole new set of wars and turmoil and… well you know.

But this baby king that’s just been born – He’s a game changer. I’ve been talking with my colleagues about this the whole trip down here, and this is what we’ve discovered…

Zechariah describes this new king as riding in on a donkey and taking away the chariots and warhorses and weapons. Isaiah talks about this baby being born who will be called the Prince of Peace, and he says that his reign and the peace that goes with it will just keep growing forever. Best yet, Isaiah says that this new king will reign forever.

I can’t really wrap my mind around an idea that big… a king who brings peace to the whole world without an army, a chariot, or even a sword. And yet, without violence, he will conquer everything. And he will reign forever. Forever.

Well, I suppose if anyone can bring us a lasting peace, it’d be him. I think he’s the one we’ve been waiting on. That’s why I’ve got this gold. It’s the only sensible gift for a king, I think. True, this isn’t a lot of gold by kingly standards, but it’s more about what it represents: power, glory, beauty, honor, and victory.

And when he comes through on all that he’s been foretold to do, I think I’m going to owe him a lot more than this little gift.

Still though, you know what I’ve noticed about good kings? They don’t get wrapped up in the size of the gift… they care much more about the heart of the giver.

Well, I suppose I’ve talked enough… time to get walking again. Maybe we’ll see each other again when the new kingdom comes.

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Pastor Mark Nieting
Matthew 11: 2-15

Jesus turned to them and asked, “What did you expect?”

Happy “Pink Candle Sunday,” the 3rd Sunday in Advent……and I pray that all of our preparations and our expectations for Christmas are in line with each other in our hearts and in our homes….amen.

It’s a tad ironic, isn’t it, that on JOY Sunday our Gospel lesson focuses on the story of John the Baptist languishing in the dungeon of the Fortress Machaerus with little or no expectation of getting out alive. John was there because he was a straight-shooting, no-nonsense, down to earth prophet of God who dared to speak the truth to King Herod’s sister about her sinful lifestyle and challenged her to, in the words of last Sunday’s Gospel, “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” His message obviously didn’t go over well, and she had Herod throw John into prison.

John the Baptist was certainly an individual who had a sense of God’s power and God’s presence. His conception was clearly the result of a miracle, and if his parents didn’t live long enough to tell him about it, I’m sure others did. Before he was born he had an in-the-womb meeting with Jesus and Scripture recorded that joyful moment for posterity. He took the vows of a Nazarene to prepare himself for his ministry. From childhood on, he knew that he would be a prophet of God to prepare the way for the Messiah. He wasn’t simply “another child,” but he was the one Isaiah talked about, the “voice crying in the wilderness.”

And his message? It was…..and we know this well…..REPENT, the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree. Repent and bear fruit in keeping with repentance…..or else! Last week we focused on Matthew chapter 3, where John prophesied that Jesus would come with His “winnowing fork in His hand, to clear the threshing floor, to gather in the wheat and burn up the chaff.” More modern theologians would call John’s message one of “fire and brimstone”……and John clearly expected that to be the case with Jesus as well.

John’s sense of himself worked into his great success as a preacher. He was so eloquent that some people thought he WAS the promised Messiah, even though John made it perfectly clear that he wasn’t!

John was a prophet and he knew that the lot of a prophet wasn’t an easy one. For a year he had been in prison, NOT because he did anything wrong, but because he did everything RIGHT! John, who had preached that the Messiah would come to set the captives free was himself a captive who needed to be set free……so John’s question in today’s Gospel lesson was right out of human nature. Word of what Jesus had been doing had obviously reached into Herod’s prison; word about Jesus’ miracles, about the healings that happened, about the demons that were cast out, even about the dead being raised.
But something was nagging at John’s mind, a question that ultimately he sent his disciples out to find Jesus and ask Him, “Are YOU the Christ….or are we supposed to look for another?”

It wasn’t that John was expecting Jesus to ride in and rescue him from prison…..that would be self-focused and short sighted and John was neither. He was struggling with his own expectations of Jesus in comparison to what he had heard Jesus was doing. He KNEW Jesus was the man he baptized in the Jordan River; God had revealed that to him in a very clear manner. He KNEW Jesus was REALLY the Christ foretold by all the prophets before him. But all John heard was works of grace, of mercy, of love, of compassion. Where was the fire and brimstone? Where was the “winnowing fork?”

It was a moment of doubt being experienced in a difficult time by a great man of faith, and I suggest that most of us have been there at one time or another in life. All of us experience struggles. We all have challenges. We all have times when our faith ebbs a bit on the low side. And when we do, where do we turn? We turn to God! We turn to Christ in prayer. We turn to God’s Word.

That’s exactly what John did…..he turned to the source of the Word, to Jesus. Since he couldn’t leave prison and discuss it with Jesus one-on-one, he did the next best thing: he sent his disciples with one straightforward question: “Are you the ONE who was to come, or shall we look for another?”

This was Jesus’ answer, sent back to him through his disciples. “Tell John what you hear and what you see,” Jesus responded. “Tell him that the blind receive their sight, the crippled get up and walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf can hear again, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” Jesus responded to one prophet….to John….with words John would have recognized as those of his brother prophet Isaiah. (Is 35)

It was a MARVELOUS answer, far deeper and richer than first meets the eye. It was an answer worthy of JOY SUNDAY.

Tell John, Jesus said, that those who are spiritually blind because of the darkness of their sin are now able to see……the blinders on the eyes of their hearts have been removed!

Tell John, Jesus said, that those crippled by sin and unable to walk in the paths of righteousness are now able to do so because I am here!

Tell John that those afflicted with the ugly leprosy of sin have been washed clean and made right not only with their priests, but with God! They are no longer contagious in the bad sense, but in the GOOD!

Tell John that those deaf to God’s good news are now able to hear, not only with their ears but with their hearts and their souls.

Tell John that those DEAD in their sins have been made alive!

Tell John that the GOOD NEWS is preached to those who are willing to hear…..and if that doesn’t bring true JOY…..NOTHING WILL!
Jesus had one more thing to add to John’s disciples before they hurried away to take this message to their master: Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.
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On “Pink Candle Sunday” let me suggest an alternate translation: Those who don’t stumble over their expectations of me will be filled with JOY!

Why would someone stumble over Jesus? Why would someone not be blessed? It all depends on what we expect! If John’s expectations were a release from prison or a bit of earthly comfort…..he might have stumbled. If my expectations of the Messiah are the same, I might stumble as well. That’s why John’s prayer, Jesus’ prayer, and our prayer remains the same: YOUR kingdom come. YOUR will be done….in my life, as it is in heaven! That’s where JOY comes from!

Nothing less than the power of God can do any of this, and Jesus, the Son of God and the Messiah of the world had come to do it all. That was truly Good News, and it was being proclaimed throughout the land…..and it still is!

John the Baptist was the last great Old Testament figure in Scripture. As a prophet he never lived to see Jesus fulfillment of all the Old Testament prophecies: His suffering, His death, His resurrection. John had to leave the stage before all that could happen. About John Jesus said that he was the greatest of those ‘born of woman.’ (Mt 11:11) That’s high praise in anyone’s book…..and great praise in God’s Book.

As quickly as Jesus gives praise He takes it away again. In the next verse he says the “least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Faith, my friends, is a humbling experience. It’s what we can’t see. It’s what we can’t touch. It’s built on the trust we have in the promises we are given. And when those promises come from God……they hold, because God is faithful, even if…or when we are not. John’s faith may have wavered….but it certainly did not break. His place in Heaven was assured by the words of Jesus.

Every Sunday we confess our faith in the Triune God….and every week the challenges of life confront us. That’s when, like for John, Jesus responds to us with His words: See what I’ve done: the blind see, the deaf hear, the Gospel is preached to the poor……and in one John didn’t get to hear…..I died and I rose again for you! Believe and have faith, and you will have joy, forever!

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Pastor Michael Cofer

Well, hello! Are you all going to see the prophet, too? Surely you’ve heard of him. The skies tell me he was born very recently, and I’m on my way to see him now. After all, I want to hear what God has to say. Hopefully, a Word from God can help me make sense of life.

Every year that passes, it seems like the world is torn apart a little more. Each war is worse than the last; each emperor is crueler than the one before. Crime is a little higher; crops are a little smaller.

And I struggle to understand how God fits in this picture. Couldn’t He – shouldn’t He – step in and do something?

But we haven’t heard from God in a very long while. There was a time when He walked among us, and talked to us, but people grew disobedient, and then fearful, and soon they didn’t even want to hear Him speak.

So God sent prophets: men and women who would bring the word of God down to his people. They would listen to God, and then pass that word on.

But even that situation didn’t last, because people didn’t much like the things God had to say. And they treated the prophets they were given shamefully – and many of them were outright killed.

So it’s been a long while since God sent a prophet, but I very much want to hear His Word again. I want to know that He still loves us, and to live at peace with Him.

That’s why I’ve brought this myrrh. Myrrh, as I’m sure you know, is pretty powerful stuff. A lot of people associate its smell with death – and that’s fair. It is often used to help preserve bodies after they’ve died. But did you also know that myrrh is helpful in healing wounds? It’s true.

So, to me, myrrh has this kind of mixed meaning. On the one hand, it’s bitter smelling; it reminds me of suffering and even death. But on the other hand, it makes me hopeful for healing and restoration.

That’s a pretty good picture for who this new prophet will be. He won’t just bring the Word of God; he will be the Word of God. He won’t just tell us what we need to hear, he will be what we need most.

And it will cost him dearly. One of the ancient prophets said this about him:
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

It’s hard to imagine all of that happening to an innocent newborn. It does make me a little sad to think that it was for this reason he was born. I’m sad, but I’m also grateful. God knows what He’s doing, even if I don’t understand it.

So, I’m going to take this Myrrh to the newborn prophet, because I believe he will bring healing to our wounds. And I suppose I should get going. Maybe I’ll see you there!

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Pastor Mark Nieting
Matthew 3: 1-12

It starts with falling into water, and it starts this FRIDAY (December 10): the latest film in the series “Chronicles of Narnia.” It’s called The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The story begins with two children, Edmund and Lucy, who have to spend a dreary holiday with their nasty and unfriendly cousin Eustace. Lucy and Edmund have been to Narnia before (you know that if you’re a CS Lewis fan) but Eustace hasn’t, and he mocks them terribly for their belief in this magical land.

Suddenly, a painting of a ship on Lucy’s wall comes to life, and the three children are drawn into Narnia. They fall into the ocean and are rescued by the sailing ship called the Dawn Treader. We could say that the movie begins with a splash.

Once the 3 children are on board, Edmund and Lucy are greeted by their old friend Caspian, who’s now a king in Narnia. He’s set off on a quest (what good sea story doesn’t have a quest of some sort) to find the Seven Lost Lords of Narnia, as he had earlier promised the lion Aslan. They sail from island to island on the Dawn Treader, running into dragons, dwarves, storms, slave traders, and mer-people. Along the way, all 3 of them are transformed, especially the nasty cousin Eustace. But I won’t spoil the story…..see it….or read it.

CS Lewis fans KNOW that powerful and wonderful things happen in the land that Lewis created to teach lessons about the Christian faith. Aslan, the divine lion, is one of the best fictional representations of Jesus Christ. Although Aslan is gentle and loving, Lewis reminds his readers over and over through all 7 books that he is “not a tame lion!” “Dawn Treader” is a spiritual adventure, similar to those found in the Gospel of Matthew, and it begins like today’s Gospel begins, with a dip in the water!

Matthew 3 is set 30 years after the birth of Jesus, with John the Baptist appearing in the wilderness of Judea proclaiming “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near!” For people who have been living under the thumb of the Romans for their entire lives, and for people who have been waiting for this Kingdom for hundreds of years, it might seem like high fiction, but John says it’s very close, and he prepares people for it by baptizing them in the Jordan River.

Matthew’s description of John has made kids laugh and squirm for ages, a man wearing clothes made from camel’s hair….which must have smelled great after it got wet, his hair uncut in true Nazarene fashion and eating locusts dipped in honey….ick! But John was a true prophet, the last prophet, the one foretold by Isaiah, appearing not in the towns or the temple, but in the wilderness.

His way of living was right in tune with his calling and his craft. He was cut from the same cloth as Elijah, Elisha, Zechariah, and many more. His message was their message, made all the more urgent: THE KINGDOM is NEAR! Prepare!

John never claimed that any of what he said was about him. He was crystal clear that he wasn’t even fit to tie the sandals of the Messiah, who was to come, and come soon. And his description of Jesus was like Lewis’ description of Aslan: He would be good…..but He would not be tame. HE….Jesus…wouldn’t baptize only with water…..HE would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with FIRE!

Who answered John’s call? Who went out to see him? Matthew uses a tad of hyperbole when he says “everybody” but even Josephus the secular historian records (Antiquities 18: 63-64) that a lot of people did: all the Lucys and Edmunds and so many others who were eager and excited to be a part of the kingdom of heaven. They were then like so many have been throughout all of history: unsettled about their lives, knowing there was something greater beyond the horizon, wanting to get right with their creator and head off in a new direction of living. They’ve all…..from then until now…..responded to the word that John uses in his call: METANOEO> Change your mind! Change your purpose! Change the way you live! Change!

But…..in the crowds out to see John are, and we’ll continue the Lewis’ metaphor for a bit, are some sour and nasty Eustaces: Pharisees and Sadduccees, those‘holier than thou’ spiritual leaders who lorded their “righteous living” and their ancestral connection with Abraham over everyone else……a strange claim considering almost everyone in Israel had descended from Abraham! How did John address them? The same way Jesus did later: “You brood of VIPERS! Who warned YOU to feel from the wrath to come? Produce FRUIT in keeping with REPENTANCE!”

How many choices did John offer? How many options did he present? Only two: water…..or fire! Be drowned in the repentant waters of baptism……or be burned up like the chaff. That’s the choice John presents to people then and now. Repent and produce fruit in keeping with your repentance, (faith without works is dead), or be cut down, sifted like chaff, and burned up in the fire. It’s ‘wheat in the barn or chaff in the fire;’ there’s nothing in between. There’s no other choices.

John called on people to CHANGE….which has never been easy for ANYONE. It’s been said that the only people who like change are wet babies….and most of them cry until the change is over. Change is difficult…..even if we KNOW that what we have to change is absolutely necessary! Keeping the status quo and not rocking the boat, no matter what that is, is far too often much more comfortable than going through change that will transform us for the future.

But here’s the kicker: transformation doesn’t happen in the boat, it begins with a cold dip into the water!

Advent, as Pastor Cofer reminded us last Sunday, is far more than a nostalgic historical journey into the birth of Jesus 2000 years ago. It’s preparing our hearts, our minds and our lives for the second and final coming of Jesus. When that will be, no one knows, but for every single human being alive today, John’s message is just as strident as it was for those in the Perean wilderness back then: it may be today. It may be tomorrow. It may be……….. and when it comes, it’s either “wheat in the barn” or “chaff in the fire.” That’s it.

That’s why there is so much urgency to the preaching the Gospel today. That’s why there is so much at stake in carrying out the Great Commission of Jesus to make disciples of all nations! How does He tell us to go about doing that? By baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything He has commanded us. In other words, we are to bring them through the water of Holy Baptism so that their faith will produce fruit in keeping with their repentance.

Here’s the “question of the day.” How do you tell a Christian from anyone else?

Christian jewelry and Jesus T-shirts might give someone a clue, but actions speak louder than wardrobes. A “Honk if you Love Jesus” bumper sticker could be a sign, unless our hand gestures don’t bless the driver who just cut us off at the light. No collection of Christian art means much in a home that’s torn apart by sinful behavior, abuse or conflict. A Bible on the coffee table is certainly an indicator, but it does no one any good unless it is read, believed, and followed!

What is the mark of a Christian? It really isn’t anything we can see. It’s hard to quantify, especially from the outside. The mark of a Christian begins in the Sacrament of Baptism and it continues throughout the journey of life as we…..each of us….produce fruit in keeping with the faith God deposited into us when we went “under the water.” Faith, that shows itself in love, in using the gifts and talents the Spirit invested in us from the time of our baptism. The mark of a Christian is a life transformed………….forever.

The apostle Paul writes in Colossians 1: 13, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transformed us into the kingdom of His beloved Son.” There’s movement here……it’s about people moving. It’s about people who are being redeemed, being saved, leaving one kingdom and journeying to another. Only Paul makes it clear that it’s not the travelers who make the travel arrangements; it’s God who does it all. It’s God, who…..using Luther’s words here,….by His Holy Spirit calls, gathers, enlightens and sanctifies us, and it all begins with baptism. It’s a journey and it’s all God’s doing………..thank God for that!

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Pastor Michael Cofer

It feels like I’ve been walking forever – crossing fields and fountains, moors and mountains following yonder star. Oh…. Oh…. Don’t get me started.

Still though, it’s worth it, to see the newborn high priest. Sure, by the time I get there, he won’t be an infant anymore… probably more like a toddler. I kind of wish I could be there now, to see the little baby in his mother’s arms.

And to think that someone that small is going to be intermediary between the maker of the universe and all mankind… I mean, some parents act like the world revolves around their baby, but in this case I think it might be true.

It took me a long time to figure out what kind of gift to get that little child. I mean, I don’t really know if it’s rich or poor, or even if it’s a boy or a girl. And sure, I could give a gift card, or something, but it feels so impersonal… and I’d really like to make a good impression. After all, this isn’t just any baby.

Anyways… I thought about it for this present for a long time, and you know what I came up with? Incense. Yup, incense. And I know what you’re thinking… but I promise it has nothing to do with masking unpleasant baby smells.

Nope… It has a deeper meaning than that. See, like I said, this little baby is going to be the one who will speak to God for us. And that’s where the incense comes in – I want him to offer a sacrifice for me.

Now, I’ve rubbed elbows with some pretty important people, let me tell you. I’ve had the ear of princes and kings and… well… you name it. But nothing, and I mean nothing would stack up to having the ear of the God of the Universe. Think about it: if you had Him on your side, who could stand against you?

The only trouble is, why would God listen to me? What do I have to offer Him? There’s nothing I can do that He can’t do for himself… and worse yet, I’m a pretty flawed individual. I know, I know. Looking at me, you’d think I’ve got it all together. But honestly, I don’t.

People have called me a wise man, and I try to live up to that, but no one has ever accused me of being perfect, or spiritual. I’m not exactly what you’d call a holy man… and so me and God don’t always see eye to eye.

That’s why I need a go-between… you know, someone who can talk to God for me – who could stand in my place. I mean, I’m not holy, but God is… and from what I know about God is if you want to stand before Him and live, you better be holy too.

I don’t know if they have priests where you’re from, so let me just explain a little bit about what they do. Basically, whenever we act contrary to God’s will, our relationship with Him is strained.

After all, God has the right to punish us for our sins. But as far as I can tell, He’d rather not. Since breaking God’s law seems to be part of human nature, there wouldn’t be much chance of us ever being on good terms with God.

So He came up with this system where we can offer sacrifices to kind of cover over our mistakes, and avoid the punishment we’d deserve. Now the job of the priest is to actually make those sacrifices for us, sins sinners can’t stand before God.

The trouble is, every high priest is selected from among the people – which means he’s probably a sinner too. That guy is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins.

On the one hand, it’s nice that he’s good that he is a sinner, because he is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

Of course, being a sinner, he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. So, in the end, he’s not much different than the rest of us. He lives for a while, and then dies and a new high priest is chosen.

But with this new high priest things will be different. He is to be a priest forever, which I suppose means he will live forever. So, if he were to be my representative before God, he would do so forever. Unlike the other high priests, he won’t need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. When he offers a sacrifice, it stands forever – by the sheer power of his holiness.

That’s why I’m going to see the baby high-priest. If I understand the prophecies right, he will be holy for me. He will carry my prayers to the throne of God, and God will hear them for His sake, even if I don’t deserve to have them heard or answered.

So I’ve got this incense – frankincense to be precise – that I’m going to leave with that little baby, and maybe when he grows up, he’ll remember me and say a prayer for me. And maybe God will look favorably on me because of the sacrifice that this newborn Priest will offer.

You know, you might think about going to see this baby too. After all, wouldn’t it be nice if God heard your prayers? Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone holy representing you before The Almighty?

I should probably get going, but if you do decide to go see him, all you have to do is follow that star.

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