Pastor Linsey Dettmer’s Fourth Advent Message 2017

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Micah 6:6-8  4th Advent 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?7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Hope, Peace, Joy and now Love – our 4 themes for this Advent season. As we learned from the first three- the fullness of these ideas and feelings can only be in God and with God’s blessing. So we shall see the same is true for love.

What is love? In English, it depends completely upon the context. I love apple pie, I love good weather, I love watching good movies. I love my wife, I love my children, I love our church and I love a lot of things but in different ways.

In English we indiscriminately swap the words “like” and “love” around – and yet there is a difference. I can like something without loving it and I can love something without liking it. I love our Country but I don’t always like the direction in which it is going. Likewise our Church. I haven’t always liked the changes of the last 50 years, but I still -and here’s another word- “prefer” our Church over any other.

Let’s see if our text can shed some light. 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? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

Another way of saying this is how I can show my love for God- for after all, I am to love the Lord my God with all of my heart, soul, mind and being.

Micah shows us what the most popular way was back then considering the different religions the Jews faced and even within their own thinking.  Bottom line, “What can I physically do to show God that I love Him?”

Abraham was called upon to demonstrate his love for God by offering his only son to the Lord. Of course, God stopped him at the last moment- which adds to the idea it was not what Abraham did but what he believed.

Today the popular idea is what a person physically does which earns God’s favor. How many times have I heard someone say words to the effect, “I know I am not perfect, but I have done a lot more good than bad and when God weighs the scales He will see how good I am.” Or simply, “I am not a bad person.”

Then there is this. “For your penance say 10 Hail Mary’s and do a good act of contrition.” Or this, “Tear up your cards and your cigarettes and pour out your wine and your beer and come forward and give your hand to the preacher and your heart to God.”  Or how about this, “Thou shalt not paint thy house nor thy barn in any color other than thy neighbor’s and thou shalt travel by horse and buggy and surely not by car.”

What is the common theme? I will give you a hint- it is a two letter word- DO! What must I do to be saved?

But we are not exempt! When I do something terribly wrong I wonder if I have lost my salvation. I am also ready to question- if not deny the salvation of anyone who does not meet my expectation of how a Christian ought to live.

And then the other side of the coin. I can readily sing, “How Great I art!” after I have done something which I believe will prove I am a great Christian and undoubtedly the angels in heaven are singing my praises. And I believe I am speaking not only of myself, but also of you- as Satan prods to take full credit for our own goodness. (or shall I say- self-righteousness?)

But before we either judge ourselves too harshly, or on the other hand, break our arms from excessive patting ourselves on the back, let us see what God really tells us about ourselves.

In Micah, we read, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Just means to be fair and we probably all pride ourselves in being fair but what is fair? I often ask business owners, if they are fair. They always say yes or at least they try to be. Then I ask them further, “Why is it that I keep coming to your place of business but you never come to mine?” And they always answer that they have their own church. What really matters is that they attend some church. And then I will say, “Then it doesn’t matter where I buy such and such or have my hair cut or see some doctor and not you.” And of course, a hardware man, or a barber or a doctor or whatever cannot be expected to show that kind of partiality.

Likewise, we also cannot always be fair. Some situations demand that we take sides. In some situations, family relationships cloud our sense of fairness.

Then there’s love mercy. Well, I tend to be merciful toward those I like and love, but not with those I dislike. If mercy is also making a decision as to who is right or wrong and who deserves our mercy, then consider the Catechism. “Always put the best construction on everything.” Here again, I don’t believe this is something we always do.

Finally, “to walk humbly with your God.” I am not sure that I always walk humbly with my dealings with my Lord and I think you will have to say the same about yourself. Does self- righteousness ever play a part?

So do we love the Lord our God with all our heart soul mind and strength- or not?  Well, what is love?  How about this? Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hope, and always perseveres.

That is a definition I do not live up to and in all honesty, neither do you. So what is the answer? Not with burnt offerings, with calves a year old, nor with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil and certainly not sacrificing our children!

The answer 1st John tells us, “God is love.” He also says “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

True love is of God, in God and through God if it amounts to anything worthwhile. God’s love never fails. God’s love is from eternity. The Bible says, “He has saved us and called us to a holy life-not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.” Not by anything we have done. Not goats or lambs, not rivers of olive oil. Not by all our prayers. Not by all the nice and good things we do, but – well what did Luther say? “Without any merit or worthiness of our own.” In other words, “We hold that a man is justified by faith, apart from the works of the Law.” That being the case, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will strive “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our loving, merciful, gracious, forgiving God.”

Hope, peace, joy and now love can only find their deepest level and longest lasting from God to us and in a reflected way, from God through us to our neighbor.  And in Advent we see  the coming of Jesus to not only save us from our sins, but also –to put it in Luther’s terms- That I may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as He has risen from death and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.  To which we can only say….Amen!


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