It’s hard to believe, but the Christmas gift giving season is almost upon us. When you give your children or grandchildren that one perfect present that you know they’ll love, they probably don’t get tired of it by the next day. Maybe they are still in love with it the next week. But wait until February. That one perfect gift has been tossed aside in favor of something else.
God’s kingdom and everything that comes with it is a free gift. But God reserves the right to take his gifts away. In the sharp, cutting parable that we read on the last Sunday of October, Jesus said to the religious leaders of the Jewish people, “I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Matthew 21:43). As this old world putters along, think of how many people, how many nations, have grown tired of the gifts of Christ, and cast them aside in favor of something else. There is very little preaching of the true gospel of Christ left in the modern state of Israel, the birthplace of our Savior. Egypt was once a nation full of Christians. They had the gospel for nearly six hundred years! Now almost every Christian in Egypt is dead or has fled the rising tide of persecution. The great cathedrals of once Christian Europe are now mostly empty museums. And here we sit in a land of plenty where the gospel is still freely proclaimed. Here we sit in a “church of the Reformation” that has been entrusted with the gift of the pure gospel, rediscovered by Martin Luther. How can we be sure that we will not be the ones to grow tired of God’s gospel gifts and toss them aside like so many others?
We need to return to those gifts of God and treasure them daily! Let us remember that the gospel of Jesus that created our faith also has the power to sustain our faith. May we always see the message of Christ crucified as not only relevant to our changing culture, but urgently needed, perhaps now more than ever! Since we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but wrath and punishment, we never run out of reasons to be covered in the blood of Jesus. On this side of heaven, we will never grow out of the need to return to our baptisms and repent of our sins, rejoicing in the fact that Jesus has won for us full and free forgiveness! Look at all the living Savior has done for you. He plants us in his Word. He guards and protects us with the Word. He digs and clears out so many stones, so many obstacles out of our lives that might harm, hinder or destroy our faith. What more could he do for us? On this last Sunday of the Pentecost season (heading into End Times), we rejoice in all that our saving God does for us day after day and we heed our Savior’s warning not to throw his gifts away! By the way, if you thought my opening Christmas illustration was a little early, that’s because it is! But admit it. You have been getting a little excited by the holiday commercials and decorations that are already showing up on our TV’s and in our stores. It’s OK to be excited about that stuff in October and November, as long as you remember that the giddy joyfulness of Christmas does not begin in the Church until December 24th! Before then we have this long, somber period of repentance which we call the season of End Times and Advent. And it’s good that we still celebrate those seasons in the church because it’s clear that we are in the last days, and only the message of repentance and forgiveness can prepare us for a true celebration of our Savior’s coming and a true appreciation for all God’s gospel gifts to us.
--Pastor John M. Stelter