Sermon for December 16, 2012

Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT

December 16, 2012

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is Matthew 1:23b “And they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means God with us.)

            On this Third Sunday in Advent we light the pink candle on the Advent wreath.  It’s sometimes referred to as the “joy” candle.  This Sunday in Advent is meant to provide a glimmer of gladness in an otherwise more solemn season that focuses on the preparation of our hearts through repentance and faith to receive Jesus, who came to us in flesh at Bethlehem, and who will come again in glory on the Last Day.  But given the most horrible events of Friday, I’m not much in the mood for “joy” today.  I can’t imagine any of you feeling very much different.  I feel more like singing with the Psalmist in our Old Testament reading, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,” in some somber, minor key.   So I coudn’t see us singing the appointed Hymn of the Day, “Hark the Glad Sound.”  Instead we’ve just finished singing, “When aimless violence takes those we love, When random death strikes childhood’s promise down, When wrenching loss becomes our daily bread, We know, O God, You leave us not alone.” (LSB  764:1) 

            And that’s the message that the Christian Church has to offer in a time of such great tragedy as this.  “We know, O God, You leave us not alone.”  As unfathomable as it sounds, God was indeed present.  He was there at Sandy Hook Elementary School as evil entered that building and wreaked its unholy havoc upon the innocent, even little children.  God was as present in Newtown, CT, Friday as He was in Bethlehem of Judea as evil entered that village and wreaked its unholy havoc upon the innocent little children there.  Yes, God was present at both events.  Yes, God was there in the very midst of death.  God was there as victims breathed their last.  He was there with those hiding in closets and bathrooms.  God was present with the police, enabling them to do their jobs.  Yet this all the more begs the human question, “If God was indeed there why didn’t He stop it?” 

            It’s the natural human question to want to know the unknowable mind of God.  Job tried it.  We read in Job 23, “Then Job answered and said: ‘Today also my complaint is bitter; my hand is heavy on account of my groaning.  Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat!  I would lay my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments.   I would know what he would answer me and understand what he would say to me.  Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?  No; he would pay attention to me.  There an upright man could argue with him, and I would be acquitted forever by my judge.’”  (Job 23:1-7)  It didn’t work so well as God finally answered Job out of the whirlwind, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?   Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. . . . Shall a faultfinder content with the Almighty?  He who argues with God, let him answer it.”

            It’s the natural human question to want to know the unknowable mind of God.  Job wanted to know why his life went to hell in a hand-basket.  Why did his children have to die in a house collapse?  Why did he have to suffer with sores on his body from head to toe?  Job never got an answer.  He, along with all of us, admitted that people cannot always comprehend God’s ways, because sin clouds our understanding.  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.”  (Isaiah 55:8)  Romans 11:33-34, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!  For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”  However unfair it appears to human standards, the Lord always acts according to His own mysterious purposes and those purposes are always good, even in allowing such horrible deaths of children in Bethlehem and Newtown. 

            For God was there.  God, in wisdom and knowledge that goes so far beyond any of our knowing, allowed these things to be in order to accomplish His purposes about which we cannot know, nor do we need to know.  As it is with so much that takes place in this sin-filled, messed-up, going-to-hell-in-a-hand-basket world, asking “why” is simply the wrong question.   We will not and cannot know God’s “why” to such things as the murder of the Bethlehem innocents or the murder of 6 adults and 20 children in an elementary school.  And that is the reason that we turn to what we do know from God’s Word because it is the Word of God that gives us comfort, hope, and peace in the midst of evil and tragedy. 

            First, we know that God did not want this shooting to happen, nor did He cause it, any more than He wanted or caused the death of the innocents of Bethlehem.  Lamentations 3:33, “He does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.”  We are assured in 1 John 1, “This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”  Finally James 1, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”  Herod’s murder of the Bethlehem innocents and Friday’s murder of school children and teachers stems from the darkness and evil of Satan, not from God.  The devil prowls around like a ravenous beast looking for someone to kill and devour, not the Lord.  Herod and this gunman fell prey to the evil one and succumbed to temptation and sin.  

            The “why did God allow this” cannot be answered from God’s Word, and so we must move again to what we do know, God with us.  God was present in that school, not allowing evil to continue beyond what it had already done.  Twenty children dead goes beyond what I can handle emotionally and mentally.  But I thank God that He did not allow it to go beyond the 20.  God was there empowering teachers to shield their students, giving them the wisdom to hide and shelter them, I believe, under the shadow of the Lord’s wings.  God was there in the pastors of our New England District, the pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Newtown, and our District President and Vice-Presidents as they were on scene to comfort and counsel and pray, assuring folks of the very message of the Gospel, God is here with you in the midst of things we cannot understand. 

            Immanuel.  God with us.  Jesus, the very Son of God, became flesh and dwelt among us in order to take on Satan face to face.  And yet the ultimate victory over Satan and all evil took place on a cross with Jesus bearing the sins of the world, suffering hellish agony, and being abandoned by God the Father.  Talk about things we cannot understand!  But it’s the message of that cross, the message of Jesus crucified, dead, and risen again for our forgiveness and everlasting life that is going to not only comfort us, but those parents and families who grieve with a grief beyond our knowing.  In Christ, God is Immanuel!  And the promise which God gave to His Old Testament people in their time of distress is never more true than it is today because the promise is fulfilled in Christ, Immanuel, who is God with us, the God who says to us, “I am with you to save you and deliver you.” (Jer. 15:20)  This is the God, the only true God, who is with us and these grief stricken families in the midst of this horrific time. 

            It is this Gospel, this Good News of our Immanuel, Jesus Christ, which does provide us with a glimmer of gladness today.  God didn’t spare His only Son from the suffering of a horrible death on a cross so that He could be the God who saves and comforts, redeems and restores.  He’s the God that doesn’t leave us alone.  Even though He is the God whose thoughts are not our thoughts, whose ways are not our ways, God is for us, not against us.  While we don’t understand and know the “whys,” He empowers us to trust Him, that He will work all things for good for those who love Him.  He is the God with us that can use such horrible evil to bring people to saving faith and a relationship with Jesus that they might not have had otherwise.  As today’s hymn writer put it so well, “Our faith may flicker low, and hope grow dim, Yet You, O God, are with us in our pain; You grieve with us and for us day by day, And with us, sharing sorrowing, will remain.” (LSB 764:3) 

            Jesus is your Immanuel through this tragedy and for all time, no matter what we face in this life.  Noting can separate you from His love.  We pray that the families of the victims would also know Jesus by faith, because He is there Immanuel too.  God give us His grace and peace, the grace and peace that flow from the cross and empty tomb of Jesus, so that we may face the days and weeks ahead with a sure confidence and a lively faith in Immanuel, our God who is with us.  Amen.

            Let us pray: 

Through long grief-darkened days help us, dear Lord,

To trust Your grace for courage to endure,

To rest our souls in Your supporting love,

And find our hope within Your mercy sure.  (LSB 764:5)

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

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