A sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church, West Melbourne, FL on December 6, 2009 by Pastor Dale Raether God¬ís Christmas Present Is a Clean Heart Luke 3:1-6I have a gift idea that a wife or a mom might really appreciate.¬† It¬ís kind of expensive, but she¬íll be telling everyone for years that this was the best Christmas ever.¬Ē¬† So, are you ready for this?¬† ¬†You know how hectic Christmas get and you don¬ít really have time to enjoy any of it?¬† Now add to all this busyness ¬Ė if you¬íre hosting a party or if relatives are coming in from out of town, you have to do one more thing.¬† You have to clean the house.¬† If you¬íve been keeping up with it right along, it maybe won¬ít take that long.¬† But if you still have dust-bunnies hopping around from Easter, well, now you¬íre really going to be busy.¬† So, here¬ís my gift idea.¬† Call Merry Maids and give your wife or your mom a clean house for Christmas.¬† I mean, think about it.¬† If you give her a clean house, she¬íll have the time to enjoy doing those little extras that make Christmas special.¬†God¬ís Word this morning is about a present that¬ís even more exciting.¬† God¬ís Christmas present to us also takes the pressure off, and it frees us up so that we can do things that¬íll make people¬ís lives better forever.¬† Here it is.¬† God¬ís present is a clean heart.¬† Having a clean heart means trusting our sins are forgiven, and willingly obeying His commands and cheerfully loving one another.¬† Now, in the case of those getting a Merry Maids gift certificate, all they need do to use their present is make a phone call, and the Merry Maids will be right there.¬† For us, all we need do is open God¬ís Word and listen.¬† In this way He straightens up our hearts and then causes us to see His salvation.¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†We read, ¬ďIn the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar¬ówhen Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene¬ó during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert ¬Ė Luke 3:1-2.¬Ē¬† As we first read this might think this is more information than we need.¬† But the Holy Spirit had a reason for telling us this.¬† ¬†¬†It reminds us that everything God did for our salvation was a part of human history, and the timing of it was a part of His plan.¬† ¬†Now, from a human point of view, this was lousy timing.¬† Rome was ruling the world.¬† There was no justice or prosperity, unless you were bigger and meaner than the next guy.¬† In fact do you know who inspired today¬ís mafia in their way they do business and run things?¬† ¬†The Romans!¬† So, imagine what it would be like if the mafia was running our government, because that¬ís the way it was for the people in John¬ís day. ¬†¬†¬†But they had even worse problems.¬† It says in our text that Annas and Caiaphas were the High Priests.¬† Normally there would only be one high priest, who would stay high priest for life.¬† Annas had been called to that.¬† However, the Romans replaced him with Caiaphas, probably because Annas was more into politics than preaching.¬† But then as it turned out so was Caiaphas.¬† On the other hand, the less preaching the church did in those days, the better, because their preaching wasn¬ít based on the Word.¬† One group within the church was called the Sadducees.¬† These were the ¬ďscholars¬Ē of the day.¬† They basically taught that the Bible was just a lot of stories, and when you¬íre dead, you¬íre dead.¬† The other group within the church was called the Pharisees.¬† They did accept the Bible as God¬ís inspired Word.¬† But they crushed people with their legalism and guilt, and for them it was all about money and pride, and nothing about the Savior.¬† ¬†So, how would you living in that dog-eat-dog world, and the only two choices you had for getting spiritual help was the Sadducees and Pharisees, who hated each other, but would join forces to stamp out the truth?¬† Well, this was when God chose as the best time to send His Son.¬† You see, God wants to save us by Himself, and He doesn¬ít want anyone to think that they¬íre helping Him.¬† To drive this home, God waited until the world was so bankrupt in every which way, that everyone could see that their lives and hearts were so messed up, there was nothing they could do about it.¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†Do you believe that about your heart and life?¬† Let¬ís look at our text, ¬ďJohn the Baptist went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: "A voice of one calling in the desert, 'Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.¬† Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low ¬Ė Luke 3:3-5.¬Ē¬† A valley is picture language for the despair that comes with sin.¬† For example, Adam was in this despair when he hid from God in the Garden.¬† He didn¬ít think God could ever forgive him for his rebellion, or love him again, or even just not kill him.¬† Maybe a little bit that¬ís how Tiger Woods is feeling right now about his wife.¬† ¬†¬†Anyway, are there any pits of sin that you¬íve fallen into?¬† Think about it for a moment.¬† If there are, and maybe some of those pits have even turned into valleys, God¬ís Christmas gift to you is He promises to fill in those pits and valleys for you.¬† ¬†Another pit or valley we might fall into is the feeling that we can¬ít control ourselves.¬† So, perhaps there¬ís something you don¬ít want to do anymore, because it¬ís harmful, and you¬íre determined to quit.¬† But after promising God 77 times that this was the last time, how do you ask God to forgive you the 78th time?¬† If you¬íre in that valley, God¬ís Christmas gift to you is He promises to fill that one too, so that you are able to control yourself.¬† One other pit or valley we might fall into is the feeling that our life is useless, and it¬ís always going to be that way, because for whatever the reason God isn¬ít helping us.¬† In spite of our giving up on Him, God still has a present for us.¬† He will fill in that valley also.¬† ¬†¬†¬†¬†But perhaps some of you are starting to wonder, how?¬† When?¬† And why hasn¬ít He yet?¬† We read again in our text, ¬ďEvery mountain and hill made low ¬Ė Luke 3:5.¬Ē¬† Man¬ís biggest problem is not sin.¬† Let me repeat that ¬Ė man¬ís biggest problem is not sin.¬† Man¬ís biggest problem is the mountains and hills of pride.¬† You see, in his pride, man insists that he knows more than God.¬† And then when he gets himself into trouble, man insists he can get himself out of trouble by meeting God half way.¬† And so, supposedly man reaches up God with his promises to do better or with the good he¬ís done, and then God supposedly reaches down with His ¬ďgrace¬Ē, and so the circuit is completed.¬† The person is saved.¬† ¬†¬†¬†It doesn¬ít work this way at all.¬† Pride dirties our heart so that we¬íre not trusting in Christ.¬† We¬íre trusting ourselves.¬† And then how can there be willing obedience to God and cheerful love for others?¬† Our hearts just keep getting dirty, which is exactly what was happening in John¬ís day.¬† However, to whatever degree pride is still dirtying up our hearts, God has a Christmas present for us.¬† He promises to knock down the hills and mountains of our pride.¬† One way He does this is as we listen to His Law, which includes examining ourselves before taking the Lord¬ís Supper.¬† However, if we won¬ít do that, God has another way to knock down our pride.¬† He lets us mess up totally.¬† And it¬ís not He wants us to mess up, and there are always consequences to messing up, but it¬ís the only way He can get through to us that we need a Savior. ¬†And then He points us to our Savior.¬† So, when your mountain of pride has turned into a valley of despair, ponder this.¬† God¬ís Son became your brother and lived a righteous life in your place.¬† His righteousness is now your righteousness.¬† Also, the debt we owed God was impossible to ever pay it, and we could never restore ourselves to any kind of a relationship with God.¬† However, God¬ís Son paid our debt for us.¬† In fact His sacrifice was worthy to pay double if it was needed, but it wasn¬ít needed.¬† And so, in Jesus¬í crucifixion and in His resurrection, we see the salvation of our God.¬† ¬†But now what does all this have to do with God making our hearts clean? ¬†Well, God doesn¬ít wait until we ask to come to us.¬† He¬ís there for us all the time.¬† Also, God doesn¬ít force Himself on us.¬† He doesn¬ít try to control or manipulate us.¬† He just plain loves us.¬† And finally He doesn¬ít make us first earn His love.¬† But He earned for us all that we needed.¬† And now the more we listen to His Word, the more our hearts will soften, and we¬íll realize just how unasked, unforced and unearned God¬ís love for us really is.¬† As a result, our hearts become clean.¬† Temptations lose their power, fear is gone, and the joy of youth is restored in us, even if our joints are getting creaky.¬† ¬†So, if all this is what it means to have a clean heart, I can¬ít think of anything that could make for a better Christmas celebration.¬† Well, actually there is something.¬† If you give your wife or mom a Merry Maid gift certificate, she¬íll have a clean house for how long?¬† Maybe till New Years?¬† Houses get messy again.¬† So also, our hearts keep getting messy, as we live in this sinful world.¬† But everyday let¬ís continue to spend quiet time in the Word.¬† In this way, let¬ís let God knock down our pride by listening to His Law!¬† And especially let¬ís let God build us up that He has made us heirs with His Son, and has called us to be lights in this sinful world and to live lives that are filled with the ornaments of joy, peace, love, kindness and patience.¬† ¬†But some might be thinking right now, ¬ďThis all sounds good, but my heart isn¬ít that clean yet nor do I see that ever happening for me.¬Ē¬† Well, yes, exactly!¬† But this is why we keep praying in Advent, ¬ďCome, Lord Jesus, in your Word.¬† Give me a clean heart.¬† And then come, Lord Jesus, in your glory, and take me home, and then for all eternity we¬íll be talking about how God cleaned us.¬† Amen.¬†

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