"Wait Until He Comes!"#84-14
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 4, 2016
By Rev. Dr. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Christmas seems so materialistic. How can I make sure not to spoil my kids with more stuff?)
Copyright 2016 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Isaiah 11:1-10
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them......In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples-of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ Jesus is coming again! Amen.
Do you remember Christmas in the old days-and I'm not talking about the 1980s! No, I'm talking about real Christmas trees with fresh pine smell filling the house. I'm talking about those old Christmas lights with the big bulbs that got very warm, but sent a bright and colorful glow shining through the condensation on the living room windows during a chilly winter night. I'm thinking about homemade Christmas cookies by the bin full and groups of carolers going door to door as Christmas approached.
Do you remember the old days? A friend of mine born in the early 1900s used to recount stories about Christmas in her small farming community in Iowa. Her Christmas gifts included apples, oranges, and a new purple pencil. She didn't receive many gifts, but she was thrilled with every one of them. Her family kept their Christmas turkey frozen by placing it outside in the rafters of the porch. The family didn't have indoor plumbing. But she couldn't believe anyone would have a bathroom inside the house. Sunday afternoon visits meant traveling in a sleigh during the winter. The children were bundled in blankets with warmed rocks from the fire tucked by their feet to keep them warm.
It was the old days: unplugged, simpler times, built on relationships, slower and quiet.
Of course, the old days weren't perfect, but they had some qualities we yearn for today. Who wouldn't want some rest from the assault of 24-hour breaking news reports? Who wouldn't want to escape the constant buzzing and chiming of emails and texts? Who wouldn't be glad to hear that instead of navigating expensive medical care online through big companies you could have a simple face to face conversation with a family doctor?
But before we reminisce too fondly about days gone by, let's remember some of the stark realities. Back in the 1800s, dangerous substances like alum in bread caused serious illnesses. Before the time of pasteurization, Bovine TB in milk caused the death of nearly half a million children in the first part of the 19th century.
The top causes of death in 1900 were pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis, and gastrointestinal infections. Some of the common medicines we have today didn't even exist back then. Modern antibiotics weren't available. Surgical procedures that are routine today could have saved many lives in the old days.
Life wasn't easy or ideal in the old days. The old days could be very hard days. Just as things aren't always the way we hope they would be today, things weren't the way people hoped they might be back then either. There is no ideal time in history. In modern times, some of our best ideas turned out to be some very bad blunders. In fact, I'm convinced that one of the reasons we suffer so much today is the overconfidence that we are going to solve all the world's problems just by our genius and ingenuity. When will we learn?
Here's some of that bravado. Back in 1972, large artificial reefs were made from millions of unused automobile tires and dropped into the ocean. The thought was they would become humanly constructed reefs rich in marine life. But it didn't happen. Instead, the old tires leached chemicals toxic to sea life. The tires broke apart and caused an environmental nuisance-a danger to the oceans. The bright idea not only didn't work; it was destructive.
Can you think of all the modern chemicals and drugs that have caused death and disaster? How about technology and innovation that ended up in foul-ups and flubs? What about the human-made disasters that have damaged our world and devastated people's lives? The truth is this; even with all our modern know-how we can't quite get rid of all of our troubles and problems.
Whether it's the old days or twenty-first century innovations, life has never been the way we've hoped it would be. In the midst of the many blessings and joys, there have always been problems-big problems, hurtful ones, heartbreaking and hope-draining issues.
But, before I get you too depressed and ruin your countdown to Christmas, let me tell you some Good News. There is a way to live in hope right now. There is a way. There is a promise for life the way life is supposed to be. And this promise-this way-is very much about the true meaning of Christmas. Listen to Isaiah, chapter 11: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them."
These words describe complete harmony, the lack of danger, the eradication of prejudice and abuse, the end of division and violence, complete health and safety, and a fulfilling clarity and understanding about the way life works.
Where is this life available? Isaiah 11:1 tells us: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him."
The key to the way life is supposed to be is not a program. It's not an institution. It's not in a political party or in an organization. It's not about reminiscing about the old days or depending on the technology of the twenty-first century. The key to the way life is supposed to be is not a what or a how; it is a Who-a Person. The way life is supposed to be is found in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the promised descendant of Jesse's family highlighted in Isaiah, chapter 11. He is the person who is able to usher in life the way God intended it to be. In fact, that is why the angels sang, why the shepherds were filled with joy, why Mary and Joseph were in complete awe, why Simeon and Anna sang songs of celebration, and why we celebrate Christmas to this day. Jesus came to put an end to death, to wipe away tears, to stop violence and division, to heal illnesses once and for all, and bring lasting peace to our hearts and souls, even to our world. In Jesus, then, there is a way for your life, your salvation, your hopes, and even your dreams!
But you may be asking: "If Jesus came to restore all things, why is life still so fouled up?" I'm glad you asked that question. It's a question that reveals the reality again of our world. It reveals the profound need each one of us has. We are broken. Our world is broken. Even during Christmas, the brokenness is very clear.
Do you notice it? I do. Every year I do. I want Christmas to be just right, but wrong things always happen. Personally, the stress of the season takes its toll. Sometimes I try to do so much, I end up getting sick. I don't always even get my gift-giving correct. Yvette has been very understanding with my fumbles over the years. As a pastor, I didn't always get to the big Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations with great joy. Sometimes I was just plain worn out and frazzled. Maybe that's just me. Maybe it's you, too.
But the broken world shows up in bigger ways than merely personal stress and strain too. For many people, this season brings devastating grief and depression. It may be caused by the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, or an experience in life that hurts very deeply.
Even during this special season, all is not the way we'd hope it would be. There's no denying it. From looking in the mirror to looking at the headlines, you and I know something is very, very wrong. What is it?
The Bible tells us and you know this truth: the world is broken. Our lives are broken. Evil and tragedy are real. God's Word speaks honestly and clearly about this fact. It tells us that the world groans with this pain-just as do we. We are waiting, we're yearning, we're hoping for restoration. God's Word tells us that sin has corrupted our hearts and twisted our world into chaos, violence, and tragedy. We're all in bad shape. No matter how much we do, no matter what we develop technologically, no matter what new innovations happen or philanthropic efforts we initiate, the stain of sin-of a tragic separation from God's goodness and perfection-mars our lives and this world. We can't solve the problem. In fact, a lot of our efforts seem to make it even worse. That's why we need something new in this equation. We need Someone new. And that Someone is Jesus.
Listen again to how Isaiah describes Him: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth...........Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins (Isaiah 11:1-5).
What are these verses telling us? They are telling us that Jesus understands the real issues and reveals what the real solutions are. These verses promise us a wise, faithful, and compassionate Savior Who will put an end to the injustices in the world and will stop evil and death in its tracks. He will do what no one else and nothing else could do.
In fact, here's what you need to never forget. Jesus has already done everything to make that happen starting with His birth in Bethlehem and living a perfect life in our place. Jesus, then, suffered temptation, trial, rejection, opposition, bullying, grief, betrayal, abandonment, physical suffering, and even death. He endured it all without caving in to disobedience or sin. He accomplished it all for you and me. And He overcame it all-including death when He rose from the grave. The power of sin and death was defeated through Jesus' death and resurrection.
That's why Paul can say it straight, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
During the season before Christmas, the season called Advent, we are waiting for Jesus to come again. We are waiting for final and complete restoration. That's the point of Christmas. It's more than brotherhood, fatherhood, and just getting along. It's about salvation, rescue, and life eternal.
This is the hope of Christmas Day. Christmas is not simply a time to remember an old story and it's not merely a family celebration for today. It is primarily a celebration of hope and expectation forever. Christmas tells us that God came to help us once for all and He will return to bring to fruition all that He has done for those who believe in Him. Christmas proclaims to you and me in the darkness and difficulty, in the momentary happiness and peace of this world.... "Wait until He comes - because there is no one like Him for you!"
It was Christmas Day last year; an adventure was unfolding on the British Isles highest mountain, Ben Nevis. It was over 4400 feet above sea level and this mountain is a popular place for climbers, 100,000 people scale its slopes each and every year.
But last year, the weather turned ugly as two Dutch climbers found themselves in trouble at around 4000 feet. They learned what it means to wait for real rescue. Darkness began to fall when the stranded men called for help. That's when a helicopter and rescue crew were summoned into action. Suddenly they saw the bright spotlight piercing the darkness. The sound of a helicopter began to reverberate all around them and the high-powered spotlight that swept the mountain face stopped and shone on their location. They were found. Help had arrived-at least the first wave of help. But the helicopter couldn't reach them...they would have to wait. The helicopter crew radioed a fourteen-person rescue team who was ready to ascend the slope. It took time, but time was no problem with help on the way. The helicopter let them know that they were not alone. All they had to do was wait.
So let me encourage you this Christmas season, dear friend. If you are presently feeling trapped, lost, or helpless, Jesus Christ wants you to know your help has come. Jesus is real. He's not merely a character in a story. He literally walked the earth, He healed the sick, He did the miraculous, and He ultimately carried your sins to a real cross and conquered death when He rose again. He promised that, by faith in Him, you will live forever with Him. And, already now, the bright rescue light of the Savior has identified your location and is shining on you. Through the living Word of God His hope is yours. His encouragement, forgiveness, and strength are available to you every day, forever. Jesus comes today! Help has arrived! You may be on the mountain, hung up in an impossible situation. The temperature may be cold and the wind may be blowing. You may be frightened and trembling. But the spotlight of His help is shining on you and this Christmas like always. His spotlight of grace is shining on the world through you. By faith in Him today make the most of everyday as you receive and shine the love of Jesus Christ through your words and actions. People need your prayers. In Christ, lift up prayers for those you love, for those in need. Jesus has come! He still comes today for you and for me.
Oh, and know this. I know even with all that joy and confidence there is still a time of waiting, a time also to wait for eternal restoration. But even then, you know, in Christ the day is coming when the rescue is complete. We know it's coming. We know Jesus is alive and well. So we wait in His hope. When everything looks dark, you know Jesus is coming again for you. When you feel like the world is out of control, you can trust that Jesus is on His way to rescue you. When you are puzzled and when you have big questions, you can call out to Jesus in prayer. He hears you. He is close. He is coming. Be ready. Be alert. Be encouraged. Just wait until He comes!
You know what I love about Advent and Christmas; it's not the gifts, the celebrations, the parties. It's the reality that Jesus came to this earth to save you and me from sin and death. And that living Lord still comes to you and me through His Word and sacraments to encourage us and to bless us. So, my prayer for you today in the reality of the hope of the Lord Jesus Who has come and Who is coming again; wait for it, wait for Him! He is close and, by His grace, life will be better than you and I can ever hope for.
Action in Ministry for December 4, 2016
Guest: Dr. Tony Cook
ANNOUNCER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour. This is Action In Ministry. It's a call to action in response to all that God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Pastor Seltz, we are just weeks away from Christmas and yet so many find themselves in a season of waiting; waiting for hope and restoration.
SELTZ: I love this time of year, Mark. It is a time that is full of joy and cheer, but many are struggling to find that joy in the midst of Christmas.
ANNOUNCER: We have a booklet titled What Is Christmas and it's all about finding that joy in Christmas even when life is hard, when circumstances are difficult. Here to talk with us about it today is Dr. Tony Cook, one of our division directors here at Lutheran Hour Ministries.
SELTZ: Dr. Cook, thanks for joining us.
COOK: Glad to be here. Thanks.
SELTZ: Tony, Christmas is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, as the song goes, but it's often not that. Why? Why is it like that for so many people?
COOK: I think that while the holidays only come once a year, the problems that we have: pain, illness, death, unemployment; these things stay with us 365 days a year. So to think that even though it's a holiday, we can set all of that aside, doesn't normally happen. So when these holidays roll around and we see all of these ideal pictures of family and friends and holiday cheer; many of us reflect on the current problems that we still have.
SELTZ: It deepens the problems in a lot of ways, too.
COOK: It does. I think that a lot of people think that the holidays gloss over the pain that we have; but, at least what I've found, is that many times it can make that pain even more intense.
ANNOUNCER: Now this booklet is titled What Is Christmas and that seems like such a simple question; but for those who have lost that joy of the season, what should Christmas be?
COOK: Well, for me, I struggle with the loss of my family members at Christmas time and you think I don't even want to celebrate. But when you stop to think about it, you realize that this is exactly the time that you should be celebrating because Christmas is about that hope. It's that celebration of Jesus, of Him coming into the world, of remembering why He came, how the incarnation made a difference not just for the world but actually in our own lives. So for me, as someone who struggles occasionally with finding that hope and joy, it's that time of Christmas that I really don't want to back away from but I need to lean into because there is the answer to the pain and the suffering that we have.
SELTZ: Yeah, when you think about it, Christmas is not an idyllic, romantic story. It's about God actually entering into all of this. Let's talk about that story. How does that story relate to folks who maybe aren't up for the celebration this year?
COOK: When we think about Jesus and we think about His birth, even during our difficult times, one of the things that we remember is the birth of Jesus began the process of bringing us back home to God. It was that process of reconciliation between God and His broken creation, between God and the broken humanity that we all have. So, while many times we can feel isolated during the holidays, really it's the message of unity and transformation and reconciliation that comes through that incarnation of Jesus. It transforms our understanding in the end; our understanding of suffering, of loss, of trial. At least for me, it points me to a future. It points me to a hope.
SELTZ: When you think about it too, God is willing to pay the price to actually come into your loneliness, to come into your isolation; so He's bringing a message to you right where you are like you just talked about. It gives you another way of looking at your future.
COOK: Yeah, really.
ANNOUNCER: Let's talk about the content of this booklet and how it helps point the reader toward the true meaning of Christmas.
COOK: I think this resource is a great one. It contains a story about a family who had the recent loss of a daughter who had died and it shows the real-life strain and stress that that loss takes. It's not something that you can just be happy and think about the holidays, but you really have to struggle and deal with. This story walks us through this loss. It walks us through the pain that this family experiences at Christmas and it gives us an example of how God breaks into our lives and how He comes to help this family so that they can find the true joy of Christmas.
SELTZ: From year to year, our circumstances, they can change or they may not change like you were talking about as well. We might lose a loved one, we might go through a financial crises, but like you were just talking about, God can break in to the middle of that and bring joy right in to the middle of that so Christmas can be full of joy when life isn't perfect.
ANNOUNCER: Dr. Tony Cook, thank you joining us today reminding us once again that Jesus Christ is our hope and rescue and we always have reason to celebrate that.
COOK: Thanks for having me.
SELTZ: That's our Action In Ministry segment today; to bless, to empower, and to strengthen your life in Christ for others.
ANNOUNCER: To view or download this resource, go to lutheranhour.org and click on Action In Ministry. Or call 1-855-john316. That's 1-855-564-6316.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for December 4, 2016
Topic: Christmas seems so materialistic. How can I make sure not to spoil my kids with more stuff?
ANNOUNCER: We are back once again with Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer and maybe you can identify with our listener who says, "Christmas always seems so materialistic. How can we make sure we're not spoiling our kids with more stuff?"
SELTZ: Well, Mark, that's getting harder and harder each and every year. Here in the United States where we have been blessed with so many resources, there's a whole pop culture trying to convince us that we have to buy, buy, buy, to be more happy.
ANNOUNCER: Let's make sure we understand what we're talking about here with this word "materialism". It is the tendency to consider material things and personal satisfaction more important than anything else-more important than relationships, more than our spiritual life, and more than lasting virtue or values.
SELTZ: Yes, stuff more than people! Materialism can consume you though. You can become so obsessed with the next thing in order to be satisfied. The buzz you get from buying something or acquiring something new becomes the stimulation you need to stay excited about life. It can become, I hate to say this, it can become a "religion" of sorts. You worship things instead of the Creator of all things.
ANNOUNCER: How can we protect our families, then, from falling into that trap of materialism?
SELTZ: Let me say it this way, you don't have to banish Christmas gifts in order to stem the tide of materialism. The deeper issue for our listener and for all of us is how we show love to others. What is the best way to show our love to our kids? Is it by showering them with stuff?
ANNOUNCER: As parents, we want our kids to be happy. We want them to have opportunities, perhaps, that we never had. It feels good, basically, to provide them with these blessings.
SELTZ: That's a caring motivation. I love showering my daughter with blessings, too. But we need to be careful that giving things doesn't veer into an unhealthy behavior. Giving gifts to ease your guilt for not spending time with your kids; that really can be very destructive.
ANNOUNCER: That kind of buying could be buying you trouble in the future if you don't watch out!
SELTZ: It often does. Giving things to your kids so they stay out of your way communicates something very hurtful. The ultimate answer to the listener's question is showing that genuine love to your children. That's what helps prevent materialism. Your kids need you. Stuff might be nice, but nothing replaces you.
ANNOUNCER: Let's look at the way God describes this relationship with our kids and how we raise them. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses reminded his people to teach their children to love God and live for Him. He said, "You shall teach [God's ways] diligently to your children, you shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and again when you rise" (Deuteronomy 6:4-7).
SELTZ: We know that every parent can't spend all that kind of time all the time with their children. There are going to be challenging situations in life that do separate you, I understand that. But pay attention to your children, listen to them, value them for who they are, and take an interest in them, and then share how God takes a great interest in them. That will keep materialism at bay. What we're really talking about here is how to teach your children to be content in all things, Mark.
ANNOUNCER: Things don't necessarily build contentment?
SELTZ: Not at all. Things pass away pretty quickly. This new toy this Christmas, and I remember this, will be forgotten by next Christmas. My dad reminded me of that too by the way. The new model of phone will be obsolete in a few months. Things fade away, they pass away. But God's love never passes away. There is a secret to being content and you probably know the verse I am talking about.
ANNOUNCER: "I can do all things through [Christ] who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).
SELTZ: That's it. What's the best way to prevent spoiling your kid? Love them with God's
gracious love. Spend time with them. Talk with them. Listen to them. Look into their eyes. Show them that they're important by being in that relationship with them.
ANNOUNCER: Let your love show them that stuff isn't what's all important.
SELTZ: Right, and there's no easy way to say this but just that your relationship to them is important. I know that's hard work. That relationship comes from God's unconditional and eternal love for us in Jesus; and then, in Jesus through us to those we love. Give your kids the greatest and most lasting gift of all: a refuge, a strength, a source of hope, a purpose for their life in their Savior and Friend, Jesus Christ.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)
"Once He Came in Blessing" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)