Born for a purpose.

Isaiah 9_2-7 Born for a purpose

Well, by now most of us have opened our Christmas presents, taken a look and perhaps, especially the kids, have even played with them, using the gifts for their intended purpose.  Every gift has a purpose.  Every gift is given to be used and enjoyed for what it is.  Perhaps you received chocolates.  They were made to be eaten and enjoyed.  Or perhaps you received a digital camera.  It is made specifically to take pictures, so that we can record the special moments in our life.  We receive and give gifts for a specific purpose.

Christmas Day is a special day in which we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus as a baby, born to human parents, Mary and Joseph, and yet born the son of God.  We also rejoice and celebrate Jesus’ birth because he was born to us, given to us, as a gift from God.  His birth is good news and of great joy to us, because he was born to fulfill a specific purpose.  Now, none of us could say that about our lives.  Yes, we can look back after many years and see how God has used us for one purpose or another, but none of us could say that from our very first breath, to our last, we were born for just one purpose.  Jesus can.  From his first cry at the breast of Mary, to his last agonising cry from the wood of the cross, Jesus life was purely and only a gift for us.

The prophet Isaiah foretold of Jesus’ destiny, telling us of his purposeful life, saying he will be all of this “a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and a Prince of Peace.”  The angel of the Lord, who appeared before Mary, told how he will be called Jesus, because the purpose of his life is to save people from their sins.  The shepherds, who were out in the fields, looking after their sheep, heard an angel say “Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  No other baby has ever been born to such a destiny and for such a purpose, only Jesus.  He was born as a gift for humanity and he was born to be given to you and me for the specific purpose of being the Christ.  Since Jesus the Christ is a gift to us, as with every gift we receive, it is important we acknowledge and receive the gift for its intended purpose.

The title ‘Christ’, used by the angel announcing his birth, is not Jesus second name, it is the meaning of his birth; Christ means ‘The anointed one’.  He is specifically born the Christos in Greek, translated from the Hebrew word Messiah, meaning ‘anointed to be king.’  Jesus, born in a stable, a place where only slaves, the poor and the hired workers go, is the king of humanity.  Jesus, lying in a dirty manger wrapped in rags made into cloth, surrounded be frighten parents, smelly animals and sinful shepherds, is the world’s Christ.  The lowly place of his birth, and the humble people that gathered around him on that holy night, reveal to us the purpose for his birth; to be the Christ to those without hope; to be the savior to those who are sinners and to be Lord to those whose only king is sin, death and the devil.

Jesus was born into the messiness of life to be Christ the saviour.  And Jesus the Christ is purposely born into the messiness of our life, not so we will try and clean up our act…the stables were never cleaned for his birth; but that he clean us with the waters of baptism.  He was born into our failures, not so we try and be better people, the shepherds remained shepherds, but that he may save us from our sins; the sin we were all born into, and the sin that rules our life and leads to death.  Just as Jesus was born king in the dark Bethlehem night, so too is Jesus born to us Christ the king, in the darkness of our life, where only we know and go, not so we shine with good works, but that he shines in us like the star over Bethlehem, pointing us to that good news that he has been born to redeem us.

The words of Isaiah are now true for you “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwell in the land of deep darkness, on them a light has shined.” This is the purpose of the gift to us of Jesus birth.  And for this purpose we come here today, to worship the Christ; to receive the gifts of his kingdom, the forgiveness of sins.  And to leave this place, this stable, and finally this life, in peace with God.  “Saviour of the nations, come, Virgin’s son, make here your home!  Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.  For you are the Father’s Son who in flesh the vict’ry won.  By your mighty pow’r make whole all our ills of flesh and soul.  Amen (LSB 332:1, 6)

What can contain God.

Luke 2_1-14 What can contain God

I have this present I want to give to a friend of mine.  But I can’t just give it to him like this.  It needs to be put into a box.  It needs to be all nicely wrapped and on show, so it looks like a present from me.  I have a few boxes here.  Let’s see.  (try fitting into the boxes).  Oh no, the boxes are just too small; perhaps if I just push a little harder and squeese it into the biggest of the boxes.  There is just no way it can fit…oops, now I’ve broken it!

Tonight is Christmas Eve when we celebrate Jesus’ birth.  And part of celebrating Christmas, the birth of Jesus, is to give and receive presents; to place gifts into boxes, wrap them and either put them under a Christmas Tree or give them to people we love and care for…belongs we have the right size box that is!

What size box would it have to be to contain Jesus who is God?  How big would it have to be?  In the gospel of John, we are given some glues, he writes “I the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.”  The whole universe was created through Jesus.  Everything that is in existence is smaller than God; that means, he is very big.  Let’s try and measure just how big God may be, to see what size of box we would need, if we were to wrap him up as a gift.  1. Here is a picture of the earth, its circumference is 40, 000 km’s, that’s big, but God is bigger.  2. Here is a picture of our solar system which is 5, 913, 520, 000 km’s across from the sun to Pluto, big, but God is bigger.

3. Here is a picture of just part of the known universe.  One of those bright dots is our solar system.  Scientists say the universe is immeasurable, but if we were to try, it would be about 46 Billion light years across!  Now if light travels at 186, 282 miles per second, you do the sums!  That’s big, but God is bigger!  Work out what size box you would need to wrap God…you just can’t.  God is immeasurable, unknowable and beyond our understanding.

All things were created through him, so he is beyond creation.  Yet tonight we hear something astonishing, something remarkable that is announced by the angel of the Lord “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign to you…[or this is the box you will find him in]…a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Jesus Christ the Lord, through whom the whole universe was created; the Son of God, who was, who is and who is to come, the biggest of big, is so small and venerable, that he can be wrapped in cloths and be lying in a manger.  The angel said “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”  The good news is that Jesus came to us so small, that Mary could hold him in her arms; that we too can hold Jesus in our heart through faith.  The great joy for us is that Jesus came to us so harmless that shepherds could dare to come near, that we too can dare to come to him and be touched by his love and forgiveness.  He came for all people, so that even three wise men traveled from afar just to bring him gifts; so that we too, no matter where we live in response to Jesus we may raise our holy hands to him in prayer, praise and thanksgiving.

This is wonder and amazement of Christmas, that God would become one of us in baby Jesus.   That God, who is big enough to fill the universe, is small enough to fit in a box, the size of a manger.  The good news of great joy of his coming is that he was born as a child, as one of us, so that nothing can separate us from the love of God; neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present or the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.  For he is our present, our gift, our Lord and our salvation, sent to us with love from God.

The way it is.


Isaiah 7_10-16 The way it is

There are some things that naturally just go together.  Like horse and cart.  Like bricks and mortar.  Like paper and pencil.  Like man and woman. They work together, they belong together and together they create something greater.  Then there are things that don’t quite work together. Like cats and dogs. Like fine wine and Maccas.  Like Australia (England) and cricket.  They don’t make sense together and don’t create something great when joined.

When in a tight situation, or even a desperate one, we want things to come together; we want things to join so that something great can come of it. King Ahaz of Judah found himself in a desperate situation, when the city of Jerusalem was surrounded and besieged by a foreign army.  He wanted something to come together that created something great; like an alliance with another country.  It made sense to join two different armies to one great army to defend Jerusalem.

When he and all of Judah and Jerusalem had heard the attacking Syrian army had already done this, making an alliance with Ehpram, the Northern kingdom known as Israel, it is reported that king Ahaz and all the people shook like trees in a forest during a storm; as naturally you would when members of your own family are plotting against you.  King Ahaz wanted to defend Jerusalem by doing the same.  To strengthen his position, he would have to join with an old enemy Assyria.  The alliance would have made sense, they belong together as natural as lightening belongs with thunder to create shock and awe.

Plans, similar to Ahaz’s go on all the time in our lives don’t they.  In order to escape out of a difficult situation, or to better our position, we make natural alliances with other people we think suit our needs.  Or we join with electronics, with money, with power, with anything we think belongs together to better our cause.   The nobler the cause, the more tempting it is to make an alliance.  Who could criticise us for acting shrewdly if our intentions are good?  Who could judge our alliances as wrong, if our cause is to better the world; or who could consider we were acting contrary to the God’s will, if we are certain our plans and alliances are purely to make great the mission of God?

Perhaps Ahaz thought this very thing when planning to join together with Assyria, a long term enemy of Jerusalem, to destroy the other branch of Israelites.  Who could criticise him for wanting to protect God’s own people; who could judge his alliance as wrong in such circumstances and for such a noble cause.  He was only doing all he could to keep the promised seed and kingdom of David alive; the promise foretold to David by the prophet Nathan, found in 2 Samuel 7 “The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: when your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom…I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.  I will be his father and he will be my son…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”

When it looks to us as if we are about to lose something precious, we need to be careful about making alliances, and working with what we think should come together for our cause, as the cause itself can become an idol; something we must do, even at great cost.  As you know, an idol demands a sacrifice, and we can sometimes be so blinded by our noble cause, we don’t actually see what is being sacrificed.  The Prophet Isaiah came to King Ahaz right at this very time, right when he was planning his own rescue package for the line of David at all cost.  Isaiah comes to Ahaz to tell him not to form an alliance with their old enemy Assyria.  That the Lord himself would fight for him; that the Lord has a greater plan already in motion to continue to kingdom promised to David.

 The Lord had already made an alliance and it was to be through this coming together that the shoot of Jesse, the seed of King David would come and not through any human alliances or plans.  The Lord even attached a sign to show Ahaz that his deal was fair dinkum; that he planned beyond the immediate saying “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  God himself had chosen to join with humanity, to become one with them, to be born to them as a child of a virgin.  And the child born will be called the son of God, Immanuel: God with us.  In this unlikely alliance, through this impossible union, a saviour will be born and he will be Christ the King.  And the kingdom of David will be upon his shoulders.  He will rule his kingdom in grace and truth.

A virgin giving birth to a son will be the sign of God’s covenant with Israel; that he himself will be their king and will be their God and live with them.  With that sort of impossible alliance, and with that sort of sign, that a virgin can give birth, but even more impossible, that God himself will be the son, only faith can grasp such a promise.  Only faith that lets go of reason can trust God could do such a thing.  Apart from faith, we can only go on relying on our own alliances, as King Ahaz ultimately did, only to destroy himself and most of the kingdom.  Yet this is how God chose to bring in the reign of his kingdom; through a virgin, through a son and finally through a cross on which the son of man was crucified for the sins of the world.

If Ahaz’s alliance could have worked to protect the seed of David and make great God’s kingdom, the Lord would not have had to send his son, born of a virgin.  If the kings of Israel could deliver from evil, then Jesus would not have to be born a servant king.  If the good deeds and religious acts of the Pharisees could have atoned for sin, then there would have been no need for the son of God to die on the cross.  No human alliances, no amount of coming together could ever be enough to overcome and defeat our enemy of sin, death and the devil.  Only the son of God, born of a virgin, and named Immanuel, could achieve and deliver such a victory.  The son to be born to the virgin will be named Jesus; he will save people from their sins.

Luther writes in his commentary on John the Baptist “No matter who a man may be or how prominent he may be, all count for nothing.  Something higher than, and different from, man is necessary, even though he be king, patriarch, or prophet…even if I wear a leather girdle and camel’s hide, eat locusts, and dwell along the water, I am not purified there by.  Christ alone does this.” (LW 22;434; 440) Our alliances and efforts to better ourselves, or the world, or to further our cause for the gospel, not matter how noble, are futile if the true alliance, between us and Christ Jesus are not glorified; if all we do and say does not point to Christ.

Advent is a time for us to remember the sign of the promise of God that “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”  In this unlikely union between God and man, Jesus the Christ was born for all.  And in this alliance, God fulfilled the promises of old, that he himself would be our king and delivers us his people into victory, as St Paul writes in 1 Cor 15 “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Advent is a time to relook at the promise given by God at your baptism, “whoever believes and is baptised will be saved’; to trust in the promises held out in Holy Communion, “my body and blood given and shed for you”; and given also through the absolution “your sins are forgiven”.

The son born of a virgin was born for you; to be your God; to be your salvation.  Some things just belong together. The word and promises of God are our only alliance in which we trust, and Jesus is our only king.  To him be the glory forever and ever Amen

Deluge and abundance

Isaiah 35_1-10 Deluge and abundance

Well who would have imagined.  Who could have predicted.  Who could even comprehend the deluge of rain we have had in the past week?  And the huge amounts of water that can flow down the Macquarie River.  When we as a family drove through the city of orange for the first time on our way here to Dubbo, the country looked green and fertile.  Then we made our way down onto the plains.  Well! Who could have imagined.  As we drove through the drought ravaged land, our hearts dropped and we though to ourselves ‘we were told this area was prime farming land, but look at it’.  Having never been in this area before, being surrounded by ash and smoke haze from the Ganoo Forrest fires, we could not see how the rocky fields, the red dust and the dry dams could possibly ever be green again, let alone grow a viable crop.  We quickly realised how life on this land and in this region is fickle.

We just need to cast our mind back 12 months to remember the hopelessness and desperation we felt as the drought continued to worsen.  Some farmers and locals even took their own lives, sadly not being able to face the uncertainty anymore over how to pay back the years of debt, and ending it all rather than choosing to walk off their farms.  Back then our prayers to God reflected Psalm 77 “I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me…at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted…will the Lord reject forever?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?  Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

 Who could have imagined, that in one week, perhaps even in one day, the Lord God changed the fortunes of this land and completely flooded this region with a deluge of abundant rain.  After 10 years of nothing, in one day, in one week God poured down enough rain to break all records in some parts, showing us his mighty power and dominion over the earth and above all showing us his eternal faithfulness, mercy and compassion.  St Paul praises God saying “now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power…to him be glory in the church…”  ‘The Australian poem by Dorothea Mackellar says it all:

“I love a sunburnt country, A land of sweeping plains, Of ragged mountain ranges, Of droughts and flooding rains.  I love her far horizons, I love her jewel-sea, Her beauty and her terror -The wide brown land for me!”

In a way we are privileged to live in this region, because the very land we live on preaches God’s grace and faithfulness to us.  The droughts and flooding rains give evidence of God’s work.  Isaiah uses extreme droughts and flooding rains of his wilderness as synonyms to the workings of God’s promise of salvation thought the seed of Jesse.  The Messiah will come, Isaiah declares “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you.  Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped…Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert.  The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs.”

Isaiah uses the imagery of droughts and the paradox of flooding rains to reveal the paradox we experience in life and compared with the promise.  The Israelites were living in exile and could not see a future.  They were in the wilderness of God’s judgment, the promised future, that they will be a blessing to all nations, seemed to have dried up; they were in a drought of God’s word.   Many Psalms of lament were written during this period.  One, Psalm 137, most clearly tells of their despair, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land.”  How can any of us sing of the Lord when we are in desert places?  We all have times of wilderness in our lives, when we struggle with the paradoxes of what is actually happening in our life and faith in Jesus who promised ‘Lo I will be with you to the very end of the age.’

We all go through droughts of God’s word, when our faith is tested with suffering and hardship.  When God seems to abandon us, leaving us with a desert like faith that is dry and parched and we can no longer sing God’s praises.  We don’t even want to open the bible, or study the word.  Instead of having a living and vibrant church life, we shrivel away.  Like with a drought, when the hot desert  winds sweep away the top soil, revealing all the rocks below the surface, in a time of personal struggle, its as if God seems to speak like sweeping spiritual winds, revealing  all our hidden rocks; faults in our character we thought we had dealt with; idols we never knew we had.  Our sinful nature is laid bare for all to see.

What then? Do we judge ourselves, God and the world as lose, as we often did during the effects of a drought in this region?  We can do this, go and hide, walk away from God, church and our faith.  We can judge what is going on by how things currently are, or we could go out into the desert and wait for the rains to pour down upon us.

The words of Isaiah spoke into the crisis of faith for Israelites ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come…he will come to save you’.  In other words, the rains of God will come; the word of God will come to bring comfort and hope. Who would have imagined?  Who would have predicted?  Jesus, the promised shoot of Jesse, the Christ, did indeed come, and his miracles of restoring sight to the blind, opening the ears of the deaf and healing the lame, point as testimonies to the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”

The droughts of faith we experience will pass, just as we have witnessed with the flooding.  The Lord will come, he will save you.  It is during the drought we need to take heed of what God is doing.  Droughts of faith are his alien work, to make us dry and thirsty for him.  To make us aware of our hidden rocks so that they can be dealt with; to drive us back to Jesus so that he may bless us with forgiveness and eternal life.

Jesus explains the paradox of living in spiritual drought and the pouring rain of God’s grace in the beatitudes “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled.”  God drives us to thirst, and be in desperate need of righteousness in our crisis of faith.  Not to destroy our faith, but to point us to Christ; in whom we have redemption.  Our thirst is filled with Jesus’ own righteousness, declaring us forgiven and accepted by him, for the sake of his suffering and death, even though we experience otherwise.  This is why St Paul writes “we live by faith, not by sight.”  By sight we experience life as if God is absent, not caring and even punishing us, by faith we know that his word, Jesus Christ, dwells in us richly and is working springs of life in our parched souls and causing our faith to burst into bloom.

Luther writes regarding affliction of the saints ‘[God] alone it is to whom we must flee as to a holy Anchor and our soul refuge when we think we are lost.  This is our task supreme: to become able to call upon God as a benign and forgiving Father, such as he ever is, even when we feel that God is against us and angry with us and that we are sinners who have deserved wrath and damnation.  And so indeed God must be judged, not according to what we see but according to his promises, in which he has assured us that he would be our Father and our God.’

The promise foretold by Isaiah has been fulfilled in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Yet the promise remains; that the word is near you.  By the power and action of God’s word and sacraments, you are recipients and benefactors of Jesus continuing ministry through the church.  As Isaiah promised in Chapter 55 of God’s word “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my word that goes out of my mouth: it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

God in Christ Jesus, even in the midst of crisis, is deluging us with grace, abundantly pouring out his mercy and forgiveness.  You are hearing the good news that is still being preached to the poor; and are having your eyes opened, as the blind are having their eyes opened to God; and though you struggle to walk with the Lord, you together with the lame are walking on the way of holiness.  Who would have thought!  God is achieving immeasurably more than we asked or imagined.


Rewards points.

Matthew 3_1-12 Rewards points

Most of us have one or more of these. (show a rewards card).  The idea of a rewards card is to buy certain products or pay for purchases using the card, earn enough points to exchange them for a reward.  A rewards card works best when used often.  The more we use the card, the more certain we are of getting a reward, like air tickets, bonus fuel vouchers or whatever your rewards card offers.  Christmas is an ideal time to ensure we meet our rewards requirements; to use our credit card to the max; to flash the fly buys card in participating shops; to purchase only products that give us the most bonus points, so that we can be sure of our reward.  It’s a great system, nothing wrong with it as long as we don’t make the mistake of purchasing for the sake of getting a reward.

We are transactional people; it makes sense to us.  I do this for you, you give me a reward.  I spend money, you give me what I want.  Christmas gift giving reveals our transactional behaviour.  Think about it. How do you feel and what has your response been, when you received a gift from someone you didn’t expect, and had nothing in return to give them?  I can tell you now, you would have squirmed, felt uncomfortable, perhaps blushed and even excused yourself with a whole lot of fast talking, for not being able to give a gift in return.  We are transactional people, its how we function in the world.

John the Baptist was offering a gift.  In the waters of the Jordan, John was baptising people for the forgiveness of sin as a gift from God, apart from and free from any of the religious duties demanded by the ruling religious leaders of their day.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” was the message and many people throughout the region heeded the Baptist’s call and were baptised.  For doing nothing more than receiving the good news that God’s kingdom was near, and allowing themselves to be baptised, they were rewarded with the gift of the cleansing of their sins.  There was no transaction made, God was giving it all and there was nothing to give back in response.  There was no trans – just action on God’s part.

When the Sadducees and Pharisees came to do likewise, to be baptised by him, John, in typical prophetic style calls out, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  Why, if baptism is a gift from God for the forgiveness of sins, does John scold the religious leaders for coming out?

John knew they were the great religious-transactors, that’s why.  As Jews and descendants of Abraham, they were given the very words of God, the Ten Commandments, and were given the promise that a saviour and king would come from their Father Abraham, as Isaiah foretold “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”  Sadly however, the gift of the promised Messiah foretold by Isaiah, who would freely forgive the sins of the world, was now only available to those who played the transactional game; a ‘reward’ transacted between the religious players and God.

Like when we use our rewards card to collect enough points to earn our reward, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to be baptised believing they were earning ‘points’ that could be exchanged for  a reward from God; the forgiveness of sins.  They did the same with every religious act.  For them, religion was all about transactions.  If you were to adhere to the conditions and stipulations of the commandments, and those of their own making, it was worth something before God.  Then, with enough points, God would reward you with the kingdom.

John refused to baptism them because they were simply going to use the baptism as another transaction between them and God; another point on their religious rewards card; I do this…you reward me with that. He couldn’t baptise them because his baptism was dependant on repentance and faith in the coming Christ, as Jesus later said “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved”, and not on works and rewards.

We also often play the same game with God.  By nature we want to transact with him.  We think we have something we can offer, some ‘points’ we can use to redeem a reward from him.  In a transactional Christian faith, we oblige God to reward us; Christ and all his benefits no longer come to us by grace through faith, but by works and rewards.  While we are not as overt and boastful as the Pharisees, we are of the same mould.  We all have a hidden rewards system we use to try and manipulate God.  We know we have a transactional faith if we get angry when other’s aren’t as committed to our cause as we are; if we are jealous of another Christian’s strong faith; if we belittle someone for not being disciples in the same way we are; If we believe God only likes our style of worship or only songs and not hymns; Or we try to do every job at church because we feel others wouldn’t do it satisfactorily.

A transactional faith always looks to how many ‘points we are earning’, looks for rewards and judges others for their lack of ‘points’.  John the Baptist challenges this belief system by saying “I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.”  Throw away any thoughts of a transaction. God is a God of action. He created stones out of nothing by the power of his word, so he can also make these same stones into sons of Abraham.  As I have said previously, God does not go around looking for people who can reward him, rather, he creates that which is rewarding to him.  By the very action of the suffering and death of his Son Jesus, the shoot of Jesse, and by the action of his resurrection, God creates holy and pleasing people.

The gospel of Jesus that, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification,” is the very action of God that brings about our repentance and faith; that creates us into righteous people, pleasing and rewarding to him.  God has done all the transacting; his son’s death in exchange for ours; his Son’s life in exchange for ours. That is why St Paul says “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”.  Luther’s explanation of the third article in his Small Catechism, explains it best “I cannot by my own understanding or effort believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him.  But the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in true faith.”

A transactional faith gives glory to our selves, repentance and faith in Christ alone gives all glory to God, which is the fruit of repentance.   To produce fruit in keeping with repentance is to know this assignment from Jesus “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”  Advent is a time for us to reaffirm our faith in Christ alone.  That he alone saves.  That God is not a God of transaction but of action; that in the coming of Jesus “every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”