S-1348-2SIA/C 12/09/2012 Hymns: #72; #506; L.S. #5; #63; 59; #70
Texts: Malachi 3:1-7; Philippians 1:2-11; Luke 3:1-14
Theme: “Return to Sender” (Malachi 3:7)
Question: “Have you gotten a returned mail?” Armour, SD
Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text for our Second Sunday in Advent is from the O.T. Lesson: “From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:7)
O precious priests of God, this is the time of the year when people at the post office dread going to work and need to survive because of the volume of mail. Christmas is around the corner and people are sending their cards and gifts to family and friends. I know that this isn’t as much of a tradition now as it once was. In years past, people actually included hand written notes in every Christmas card. But we no longer live in the past. With busy schedules and rising costs, times have changed. In recent years families have started to send the Christmas form letter.
Because of FB, Tweets and instant messengers serving as the daily Christmas letter, the number of cards and letters are declining! This time of the year being extremely busy and with the expense of sending cards out, many are choosing a different method to send their messages. This is so because it is such a challenge to keep current addresses.
Perhaps you have gotten a Christmas card or a letter stamped with the phrase “Retur to Sender. The King of Rock—Elvis Presley even had a song by this title. Listen, please to the lyric of Elvis’ song; “I gave a letter to the postman, he put it in his sack. Bright in early next morning, he brought my letter back.” She wrote upon it: “Return to sender, address unknown. No such number, no such zone.” We had a quarrel, a lover’s spat I write I’m sorry but my letter keeps coming back. So then I dropped it in the mailbox and sent it special D. Bright in early next morning it came right back to me. She wrote upon it: “Return to sender, address unknown. No such number, no such zone.” This time I’m gonna take it myself and put it right in her hand. And if it comes back the very next day then I'll understand the writing on it: “Return to sender, address unknown. No such person, no such zone.” So why do letters and cards come back? The reasons are these: Shortage of postage, insufficient address, unable to forward, no such street, and no such number. PAUSE.
As we gather in the Lord’s house on this Second week in Advent, we are confronted with this message of sent and sender. In the text, we hear about a message that will be sent from our heavenly Father. But this is not some Christmas letter that is decorated with bows and hallo. The message that is sent is not about God’s time in heaven. It isn’t a recap of the year’s escapades. No, this message is much more pointed. In fact, it is more like a bill for a debt than a greeting card. “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, He is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of His coming, and who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver” (Malachi 3:1-3).
The Prophet speaks of a messenger who will come to preach repentance. This message is not very pleasant. In fact it smacks the hearer right in the face. The Prophets cried out for repentance. They scolded and chastised. Through the centuries the message kept coming. In fact, it kept coming all the way until the time of The Messenger, John the Baptizer. And the message was the same. Here is how John relates it in our Gospel reading: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” You don’t print a message like this on a pretty card. No, this message is brutal and direct. It is none other than the work of God’s Law calling us to repentance before it is too late!
But in the world we live in we don’t wish nor care to hear such a message. We want to stamp it with “Return to Sender.” It is a message that doesn’t make us feel good. This time of the year we want a message about a baby and gifts, not about sin and death. We don’t want to be called vipers and sinners! If we are told that what we are doing is against the Word of God, we howl. We won’t receive a message that living together without marriage is sin. We won’t receive a message that leaving your spouse is a sin. We will not accept a message that making worship an occasional thing rather than a priority is a sin. With each proclamation and a hundred more like it you can almost hear the smack of the “return to sender” stamp!
But this is the MESSAGE. It is a message that while not pleasant is meant for a critically important purpose. It is meant to purify. For as this message of Law and condemnation burns us in our sinfulness, it burns off those impurities that would keep us out of the Lord’s presence. Those sins which entangle? They are burned away. The guilt which holds our souls captive? It is seared away so it no longer has a hold on us. In this process of refining and cleansing with all the heat and the scrubbing and scouring we are made holy by His precious blood.
But this Messenger makes it clear that we are more than just holy as a condition. We are called to live in this holiness. Malachi speaks of holiness this way: “Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. The cleansed are the sons of Levi. The cleansed are the priests who offer the sacrifices of praise that are acceptable in the sight of our Lord. We, you and I, are those priests. The Apostle Peter proclaims “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”Those of us who by the working of the Holy Spirit receive the Messenger and Return to our Sender, the Lord Himself, become priests who share the excellent message of salvation that only comes from Him!
But this message can be confusing when we seek to live it out. Because we hear so many other messages out there telling us “God’s Word is not important. Do what makes you feel good. Don’t worry about others. Just live and let live.” But this is not what God has called us as His priests to live. No, we are called to live holy lives that reflect His light and salvation. In short, our living out of the Message is living in such a way that our life of repentance shows. This living doesn’t save. That is what Jesus is for. That is what the cross is all about. For through the cross, we see the full meaning of the term “Return to Sender.”
Why you may ask? Because, from the cradle to the cross, we see the perfect life of the Heaven-Sent Savior and Messenger; who came from God and brought us the message of forgiveness and peace. Unlike the postman who delivers your mail, God sent His ONLY Begotten Son, Jesus and gave Him the message of calling us back to His loving Father. And just like the postman returns the letter to its original sender, Christ our Savior because of what He accomplished brings us back to the original Sender—our loving and gracious Father and Creator.
During the Advent Season and Christmas we see the Messenger made flesh. He comes to be our High Priest living our life for us. Doing what is impossible for us to do, offering us to God as Holy in His sight because we have been purchased to be sent to our original Sender. For this reason, we are privileged to live in the marvelous light of that cross. It is that light that pushes back the darkness whereby we see the tremendous God we have!
This God is none other than the One the Messenger points to. Again Malachi tells us “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” The Sender we are called to return to is a gracious and forgiving Lord. He bids us return. And what do we return to find? Here we find a Lord who greets us with a word of Forgiveness, life and salvation. And on that Day we will find a Lord who greets us with the welcoming arms of a Father who sent us away, but is glad that we are home.
So today, at His gracious invitation we Return to Sender. But there is nothing wrong. The address is correct. The postage has been paid in full. We are just returning to where we belong. To be with the Lord! For now and forever! AMEN.
Now the peace…
SOLI DEO GLORIA