Date: December 18, 2019
Festival: Midweek Advent Service (Week 3)
Text: Matthew 13:7, 22; 2 Peter 3:10-13 (John 14:27; 16:33; Revelation 21:1-5)
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Trouble with the World’s Christmas
Have you noticed that there’s a lot of opportunities for worship during this time of the year? Even though it’s not Christmas yet, there are many places that offer various forms of Christmas worship that have been going on for quite some time.
Right now, I’m thinking of a particular example. It’s rather traditional and it’s been going on for a long time. It’s heavily encouraged, churches are filled, music is always playing, and our sanctuaries are adorned with spectacular Christmas colours and beauty. This particular example of Christmas worship proclaims the Gospel that promises a future comfort and hope.
But there’s a problem, even though it’s popular and even though it claims to celebrate Christmas. It is Christmas worship without Christ. This type of so-called worship is a worldly version of Christmas that promotes money and materialism as the ultimate source of comfort and hope. It actually begins on Black Friday, or Cyber Monday for us homebodies. We rush to the altars of cash registers and our online checkout carts before we rush to the altar of the Lord’s Table, and this false worship lasts well throughout the Christmas season.
Jesus described money as one of the gods of this world. What do I mean by “god”? In his Large Catechism, Luther defines a god as something people put their ultimate trust and source of comfort in. The proper God to put your trust in and receive comfort from is Jesus. If it’s not Jesus, it’s a false god. Money is on the top of the list of false gods. If the First Commandment means to fear, love, and trust in God above all things, if we fear, love, and trust in something else more than God, that thing becomes our god, such as money.
From this perspective, we could say the churches of this false god might be stores and shopping venues. You can even worship online through the temple of Amazon. The marketers and advertisers are evangelists for the god of money and its worship is known as materialism, which is to fear, love, and trust in things more than we do God. In this worship of things, the cash registers are like altars of sacrifice that promise blessings if our offering is big enough.
Before you misunderstand me, merely shopping for Christmas presents is not worship of money in and of itself. Rather, it is the fallen world’s approach to money that makes it worship. We can certainly buy things, including Christmas presents, for good. Our Christmas shopping doesn’t have to be a materialistic practice; but make no mistake about it, the Devil will tempt us and our sinful nature will often fall for such a false hope.
Jesus was well aware of this. So, in the Parable of the Sower, He warned against what He called “the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.” He said these things can choke the Word of God out of us.
Trouble in the Text: The Sinful World is Exposed and Judgement Must Come
In our Advent series this season, we’ve been listening to Jesus’ words in this parable that helps us focus on God’s Word, especially in the form of daily devotions. So far, we have considered how Jesus came and still comes to overcome the Devil and our sinful nature. Today, we focus on Him overcoming the sinful world.
Hear His description of this in the parable, “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” Then He explained this part of the parable, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the Word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the Word, and it proves unfruitful” [Matthew 13:7, 22]. In other words, when the world’s cares and false hopes close off the Word of Jesus from us, it’s like plants being choked out by weeds.
These worldly cares and false hopes take various forms. I described one of these earlier, which is materialism in the world’s false Christmas. Another is atheism and false beliefs that seek to discredit God’s Word and teach empty philosophies. These are the people who say, “Prayers do nothing,” yet they also say mystical things like, “Put good vibes out into the universe.”
There is also the most basic form of false worship the world promotes, which is worship of the self. You’ve heard it before. Its evangelists proclaim their false gospel with the words, “My body, my choice,” and even, “I worship God my own way.”
God declares He will put an end to all of this. Jesus will return with power to judge the living and the dead. There is no negotiating with the sinful world; it must be destroyed before a new one is created to replace it. St. Peter writes about this in his second letter:
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.2 Peter 3:10-13
And a new thing is coming. Christmas advertisers tell you to buy the latest new thing—the latest iPhone, the latest gaming console, the latest automobile. Conversely, our Lord promises to give us the true last new thing—the new heaven and the new earth. He promises this will happen when He returns.
This was His plan from the beginning. He spoke of this promise of the new creation through Isaiah. As prophesied, Jesus came to redeem His people in the fallen world so that He could come and take them to a new one when He returns—a new and better one “in which righteousness dwells.”
He could do this because He and His kingdom are not of this world. When He came, that first Christmas promise to bring peace on earth and good will to man was not the world’s fleeting form of peace. As He said during His ministry, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” [John 14:27].
He gave this peace when He took the sin of the whole world—your sin—upon Himself as He hung on the cross, beaten to a bloody pulp, likely to the point that His own mother could barely recognise Him. It was through the peace of His cross and resurrection that true hope was given in the face of the world’s lies. Again, He says, “I have said these things to you that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” [John 16:33].
We know this peace by faith, which will transform every part of life in the new world Jesus will usher in when He returns. St. John prophesies this promise in the Book of Revelation:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also, He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”Revelation 21:1-5
Grace in the World
It is through the promise of God that what you just heard is “trustworthy and true,” which mitigates our fears of the world coming to an end. Climate alarmists are terrified of the world ending because they have no hope. Yet we, the people of God, can boldly say, “Bring it on!” For when the world ends, God’s judgement follows to destroy all evil and usher in the new creation for you and me, His children, where peace with God and one another abounds forever and ever.
This is why we gather together to encourage one another in church as we await Christ’s return. This is what the Church does in worship. The church fathers often described the Church as our mother; she forms us in her womb and warms us in her bosom with the hope from the Word of God amidst this sinful, hopeless world.
However, let me ask, “Is weekly worship enough?” Of course not! The world calls us to participate in its false worship seven days a week; the Devil’s mistress is relentless. Therefore, we need to receive strength and guidance from God’s Word every day. This is why we’ve been stressing daily devotions this Advent. Staying in the Word every day is more important than ever these days, otherwise we will find that the cares of the world and its deceitfulness will choke us out like weedy thorns amidst blossomed poinsettias.
This is also vital for raising our children. They experience our world’s messages 24/7. It has access to their hearts and minds through social media, TV, YouTube, and video games. What messages are they being told? Not all are bad, but many of them are. We need our children to be formed in the faith every day as we read God’s Word and pray with them, especially as we teach them God’s Law that produces repentance and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to give them saving faith. When they leave home for school or work, we want them to be well-grounded in the faith that will not allow the world’s cares and deceitful desires to choke it off. Daily devotions in the home, on top of weekly worship at church, facilitates this lifelong catechesis.
This isn’t only for children, however. All households need the practice of daily devotions, whether they’re a married couple with an empty nest or singles at every stage of life. We all need to support one another with God’s Word. Communication technology actually helps us stay connected to God’s Word and one another. In addition to older mediums like the printed Word, we now have Bible apps and devotional apps we can read or even play God’s Word for us. There are also ones that enable people living across the world to engage in daily devotions together.
For example, there’s the Pray Now app from CPH, which is basically the digital version of the Treasury of Daily Prayer. There’s a free devotional app for women called She Reads Truth. Proverbs 31 Ministries also has a free devotional app for women called First 5, and you can even participate in a public group or create your own group with your friends or family to do a 5-minute devotion together every day. Bible Gateway also has their own free app that helps you develop your own reading plan of the Bible. Lastly, another good devotional app—this one is for men—is called Giant Slayers. It’s interactive and you can set up your own daily schedule.
So, you see, there are many things available to us that make it easy for us to begin and maintain a daily devotional habit. Of course, all forms of technology are not for everybody. All you really need is a Bible, and there are other resources out there that are easily accessible in printed format, such as Portals of Prayer and other books you can purchase from CPH or search on Amazon. We’re also still passing out Advent devotions at the end of the service.
Brothers and sisters, this Christmas, do not let the world’s false worship choke out the Word of Christ. Keep coming to our house of worship where our focus is on the true God, Jesus Christ. Keep Christ in your home through daily devotions. And encourage one another, all the more as you see the Day drawing near [Hebrews 10:25], finding strength in knowing Christ will return and usher in the new creation “in which righteousness dwells,” where true joys abound forevermore.
May this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the Word of Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
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©Descent of New Jerusalem by Patricia Wagner