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Sermon Text for December 29, 2013
"Regrets, More Than a Few" #81-17 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 29, 2013 By Rev. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour (Why Bethlehem?) Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: 1 John 1:9
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed! Today, with 2014 just around the corner, God's people joyfully come together in a resolution which confesses Christ crucified and risen. By God's grace and through Jesus' blood may we rejoice in sins which are forgiven and forgotten. God grant this resolution to us all. Amen.
Well, my friends, Christmas is over. Did you get what you wanted? If you didn't get what you wanted on Christmas Day, have you managed to exchange that not-wanted-stuff for the things on which you really had your heart set? Christmas is over and now, at least for the church, we're getting ready for the next sort-of-big holiday called Epiphany. You may not know the name Epiphany, but you do know about the Wise Men who came to worship the Christ Child. Your nativity sets usually have them showing up with the shepherds at Jesus' birth, but that's not the way it was. The Wise Men made their appearance sometime later. At any rate, next Sunday, or officially on January 6th, many churches will celebrate Epiphany by singing, "We Three Kings of Orient Are." I love that hymn. I love it, at least in part, because it has three errors in six words; it sets a record for inaccuracy. We don't know if there were three wise men, they weren't kings and they most certainly didn't come from the Orient.
Of course, before we get to Epiphany all of us are going to have to survive the really non-religious celebration of New Year's. And New Year's really is a celebration, isn't it? No, it's not nearly as family oriented as is Christmas, but even so, folks still love to celebrate the 'out with the old and in with the new.' To that end we have established, and New Year's lays claim to, its very own special, set of select traditions.
New Year's Eve traditions. New Year's traditions. There is the Waterford Crystal Ball which drops down in Times Square at precisely 11:00, if you live in the Midwest. And I thought Dick Clark was always going to be a tradition, but he passed away and now Ryan Seacrest has about a hundred years to catch up to Dick Clark to make himself a tradition. What other New Year's traditions are there?
Oh, I know, the Rose Bowl Parade. I rode in that parade a few years back. Those bands, horses, mobile floral displays have been held in Pasadena on New Year's Day for over 125 years. They tell me a million people line the parade route and a billion more watch it on television. I guess that makes the Rose Bowl a New Year's tradition. Anything else? Oh, songs. Auld Lang Syne, the poem by Robert Burns. You remember: "Shid ald akwentans bee firgot, an nivir brocht ti mynd? Shid ald akwentans bee firgot, an ald lang syn*? Other songs? One by Frank Sinatra: "I Did It My Way." You remember the lyrics, don't you? "And now, the end is near And so I face the final curtain, My friend, I'll say it clear I'll state my case, of which I'm certain I've lived a life that's full I've traveled each and every highway And more, much more than this I did it my way."
I remember that one. "Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention." You know, if we said "We Three Kings of Orient Are" had some mistakes, so does that song sung by Frank Sinatra. 'Regrets, I've had a few?' I mean how many of us can sing that line without breaking into a belly laugh? Truth is most of us have a bushel-basket filled with regrets... and when it comes to mentioning those regrets, we couldn't forget them if we tried.
A few weeks ago I re-read Dickens novel, "A Christmas Carol." The story line of Ebenezer Scrooge is all about regrets. First, Jacob Marley, Scrooge's old and painfully-dead partner, shows up and tells how he regrets the bad decisions he made in life, the bad decisions which he wears like chains in death. Then Marley warns Scrooge about how he'd better change his ways if he doesn't want to spend the ever-after regretting all he has done wrong.
At midnight, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost-Of-Christmas-Past who takes the reluctant miser on a tour of his early history. Scrooge is shown some snippets of happy Christmas celebrations from long ago. He is forced to remember how his little sister had held him in awe and admiration, how royally his employer, good, old Fezziwig had treated him. He sees once again the joy he found in the love which he shared with Belle, the woman who became his fiancée.
Then there was the turning point in Scrooge's life when money became his best and greatest love. His fiancée, realizing Scrooge was more attracted to gold than he was to her, broke off their engagement. From then on it was a downward spiral as each year found Scrooge more miserable and more miserly than he had been the year before. The story progresses. At 1:00 Scrooge is visited by the Ghost-of-Christmas-Present who shows him the disastrous, present-day results of Scrooge's past choices. By the time the Ghost-of-Christmas-Future arrives Scrooge could have changed Sinatra's song to read: "Regrets, more than a few, more than I possibly can mention..."
And, if I'm being honest, I must confess I need to add my voice to that of Scrooge. If the Ghost-Of-Christmas-Past grabbed me out of my Texas bedroom, she would be hard-pressed to show me half of my bad decisions, wrong choices, and tragic sins in the hour which she has been given. Regrets, I've had a few? Not likely. Like Scrooge, I would find those numerous recollections of my wrongdoing to be incredibly painful. Like that old curmudgeon I would begin to wonder how much my present and future might have been changed if I had gone a different direction or made some different decisions.
Of course, now that I think about it, most of us don't need to be haunted by ghosts, nor do we need any spirit-world apparitions taking us on a tour of our flaws and failings, our sins and shortcomings. We don't need them because our memories and our consciences keep a pretty good inventory of our many regrets. Some of those things we knew were wrong at the time we were doing them; the error of others came to light with the passing of time. Let's see, there was the time in grade school when everybody was picking on one of the kids and, rather than rising to his defense, I joined in. Allowing him to be used as the sacrificial lamb was my way of making sure that I didn't become the target of the group's cruel comments and criticisms. I would love to say that was a one-time transgression. It wasn't.
Then there have been those times when I spoke far too harshly to someone who loved me or was trying to help me. There have been times when I criticized those who were in authority above me, undermined their position and had considerable fun at their expense. Neither president or professor, parent or pal escaped my judgmental tongue. Then, I am sorry to say there have been moments when my temper flared and my reaction was far stronger than anyone deserved.
Regrets, more than a few. This half-hour broadcast does not give me time to scratch the surface of the many regrets from long ago which are played again and again in my mind. What I can and will say is this: I have shared what I have shared not to give you a deep understanding into my private, public, and personal sins, I did so only because I am quite confident that you are right in my side on the boat of regrets. Your conscience, like mine, is alive and well. It is eager, excited, even enthusiastic in its desire to let you know that you have messed up in a major sort of way. No, my sins may not be your sins, and my faults and flaws may seem foreign and foolish to you; but that hardly means you are without sin and none of us is so innocent that we can cast the first stone.
Regrets, more than a few. Maybe that is why, right around this time of year we start following another New Year's tradition, the making of resolutions. Acknowledging our past failures we make promises to ourselves that we will do better and be better in the future. You know, these things are so universal, I bet you can get most of them without even trying. The five most common New Year's resolutions are: resolving to take up a new hobby; resolving to make more money; resolving to improve relationships; resolving to stop smoking, and the most popular resolution of all, is the resolution to lose weight.
But those New Year's resolutions hardly touch upon our personal sins and our past guilt, do they? What resolution can be of help to the woman who feels guilt about having had an abortion which, at the time, may have seemed like the right, the reasonable, maybe the only option open to her? What resolution can there be for the spouse who regrets the lies, the wounds, the pain which has been inflicted on a marriage because of an affair? What resolution can be adopted which will remove the regret someone feels for having betrayed a best friend? Certainly there is no resolution which can mend the harsh words which were directed against a now-deceased loved one.
Yes, our past is full of mistakes. If you are being honest, right now you're thinking about the many regrets which you have, the actions over which you are ashamed and embarrassed, the things you've said and thought which were illegal, immoral, cruel, or scandalous. There are regrets over things which you did wrong and regrets when you failed to do what was right. They are so much a part of us that I don't even have to tell you to, "take a minute to recall those sins for which you are most mortified.' Ever since I started talking about the past, your particular episode or episodes have been right at the front of your thoughts. You may not have shared them with anyone, you probably will never reveal them to anyone, but you know them. You can't escape from them. Regrets, yes there have been more than a few.
Now, before I go any further, I do need to say something positive about regret. Our regrets are a good thing when they lead to repentance, that is, sorrow accompanied by a commitment to abandon past sinful behavior. When a person regrets having embarrassed himself by drinking too much and then learns to curb that habit, regret and repentance have served their purpose. If regret over having treated your children poorly leads to repentance, then you are acting as the Lord wishes. If regret over your sad, sorry relationship with the Lord leads to repentance and an increased faith and devotion to the Triune God, then you have been blessed.
Regret can be a good thing when it turns you around. Unfortunately, most of the time regret just sits there in our minds and hearts. Year after year it sits there looking stern and severe, spitting out cruel, callous, and unkind accusations. Unbridled regret doesn't care about a calendar which changes, it is tireless in its desire to give you ulcers, high-blood pressure, worry, sleeplessness, a feeling of worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, and doubt about your possibility of entering paradise.
Which is why, if what I've been saying sounds uncomfortably familiar, as you stand poised to enter the New Year of our Lord, 2014, I've got good news for you. For those of you who have no faith, or a misguided and misdirected faith, I have good news. Today it is my privilege to share that you have been unsuccessful in hiding your sins and wrongdoings. You have been a miserable failure at keeping things covered up. The all-knowing Triune God is fully aware of what you have done wrong; He has looked at your excuses and He has seen you suffer under the condemnation of your guilt and regret.
But you need to know that the Lord is much more than a distant Observer of your pain. He cares about you, your happiness, your eternity. He cares more than you can possibly imagine. Indeed, He loves you, even if you cannot love yourself. So that you might be released from your most personal regrets and redeemed from the condemnation they bring, He sent His Son into this world. God's perfect Son, Jesus Christ came into this world for the express purpose of walking in your shoes, living your life, carrying your transgressions, and dying your death. The great difference between you and Jesus is that He did all of this without having done anything wrong.
From start to finish Jesus lived a perfect life and now, to all those who believe, His righteousness becomes theirs. Wait, let me say that in a more simple, a non-theological sort of way. Because Jesus has carried your sins, because He took them to the cross, they are gone. That's right, when you have faith in Jesus, your sins are gone. They no longer can accuse you; they cannot condemn you, they cannot call out for your punishment.
That means, with faith in Jesus as your Savior, 2014 can be a year unlike any other. For the first time in a long time you can be free of your regrets, you can be free to live a life of thanksgiving in praise of your Redeemer; you can be free of the past and able to look forward to the future with joy. Your regrets may have said the wages of sin is death, but the Savior who lived, died, and rose from the dead to save you counters by saying, "the gift of God is eternal life." To those of you who have given up, I call you to see the Savior. See Him who alone can bring light to the darkness which envelopes you; and joy to your soul which has been wrapped in sorrow.
And to you who already know Jesus I must also say a few words. During my years in the parish I met more than one Christian who knew and loved the Savior who had first loved them. Sadly, they were unable to fully grasp the full impact of the words Paul wrote to the church at Colossae. By inspiration the man who had been involved with the murdering of one of God's people, could honestly assure: "you, who were dead in your trespasses... God made you alive together with Jesus, having forgiven us all our trespasses." Col 2:13 (ESV) Far too many Christians think their sin and regret are the singular exceptions to John's statement which promises: "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (11 John 1:9).
Which is why I say to you, "Do not let 2013 come to an end with you carrying around some sin which God forgave when Jesus died on the cross. Do not let 2014 begin with Satan accusing you of a transgression which Jesus carried to Calvary. My fellow believers, "Today is your day of freedom. Most certainly you should learn from your past, but do not let the ghosts of years gone by burden you with guilt for a sin which was nailed to Christ's cross." Listen to what Scripture says, believers who have confessed their sins and their faith in the risen Redeemer can be sure and certain that He will forgive us all our trespasses, cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Take those words to your lawyer and he will find no loophole; take those words to your jeweler and he will find no flaw; take those words and put them under an atomic microscope and you will find no exception. In Christ we are forgiven. Forgiven in 2013, 2014, and in all the days we are given.
Last week's mail brought me a notice. The card said, "Your TIME subscription has run out." That was a bit disconcerting. I wondered if the sender knew something I didn't. But, no, that small letter referred to the magazine and not the days of my life. But I couldn't help but remember, time is running out for all of us. Which is why, since the Lord has graciously brought us to 2014, we ought to enter the New Year knowing, believing, saying, "Regrets? I have not one; because of Christ I am forgiven."
May God grant that assurance be yours, and if it's not and you believe it ought to be, please, I encourage you to call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for December 29, 2013 Topic: Why Bethlehem?
ANNOUNCER: Why did Joseph and Mary go to Bethlehem? Pastor Ken Klaus responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer.
KLAUS: Hi, Mark. And hello to our listeners.
ANNOUNCER: I realize we're already a week past Christmas at this point, but how about one more Christmas question?
KLAUS: Okay by me.
ANNOUNCER: Our listener wants to know, why did Luke make a point of saying that it was the Emperor Caesar Augustus who called for a census that required Joseph and Mary to go to Bethlehem? Our listener also has a follow-up challenge for you.
KLAUS: Thanks for the warning, but I don't think that would change my answer. Luke and the other Gospel writers include some historical data because they want everybody to know that this isn't a "once upon a time story." The story of the Savior doesn't begin like Star Wars... "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away." They want you to know that Jesus really was born, when He was born, where He was born, the family from which He was born. In this way people wouldn't be able to say, "Ah-ha! This really didn't happen."
ANNOUNCER: And I suppose most Lutheran pastors would answer the same way.
KLAUS: Yes, and now comes the second question, the semi-trick question?
ANNOUNCER: Yes, the follow-up. If you say it's so that we know Jesus is an historical figure, then why doesn't history have other records of a census called by Caesar where people had to go long distances in order to be enrolled? If Luke really wanted us to know the facts, why did he get these facts so mixed up?
KLAUS: What he's saying is there is no corroborating record of Caesar telling people to get registered at an ancestral home. Since the part of Luke's story about Mary and Joseph going from Bethlehem to Nazareth is suspect, then the rest of what Luke says is also not to be trusted. Is that it?
ANNOUNCER: Pretty much. How would you answer?
KLAUS: A couple ways. First, the Gospel accounts are themselves historical records. Second, we have only piecemeal information surviving from this time and especially from a remote province like Judea. So, just because we do not have additional evidence for the event outside the New Testament, we should not conclude that the Bible account is unreliable. Beyond that, Mark, I'd like to ask you some questions and have you lead us in an explanation.
ANNOUNCER: All right. I'll try.
KLAUS: So, where did Mary live?
ANNOUNCER: Luke says the angel Gabriel went to visit Mary in her home of Nazareth.
KLAUS: And where does the Bible say Joseph lived?
ANNOUNCER: I suppose I've always assumed he lived in Nazareth, too. Are you going to tell me that's wrong?
KLAUS: Sort of like they were next-door neighbors.
KLAUS: No, I'm not going to say it's wrong; but, I am going to say we don't know. The Bible is silent as to where Joseph had his residence. It might have been Nazareth, or it could have been a considerable distance from Nazareth. All we can say is, when Caesar's decree went out, Joseph and Mary went to register in Bethlehem.
ANNOUNCER: The place where it was foretold the Messiah would also be born.
KLAUS: Exactly. It is possible that Joseph may have lived near Bethlehem, or he may have had his home elsewhere. Like I said, we always assume that Joseph and Mary lived in Nazareth; but, maybe when Caesar's decree came out, what Joseph did was collected his expecting bride and brought her to the ancestral hometown. He may have lived close by.
ANNOUNCER: Is there more?
KLAUS: In the gospel according to Matthew we're told Herod wanted to kill Jesus and Joseph took his family to safety in Egypt. There they stayed until after Herod died. Now, can you tell me when Joseph was coming back, where did he plan to live?
ANNOUNCER: Does the Bible tell us?
KLAUS: Not in so many words. But it does say this in Matthew 2: after Herod's death Joseph rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel... when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea... he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee. And he went and lived in a city called Nazareth..."
ANNOUNCER: So, it sounds like Joseph at first was headed to Judea which is where Bethlehem is located and it was only his fear of Herod's successor and God's warning then that redirected him to the north, to Nazareth.
KLAUS: Which means when Caesar called for his census, maybe it was only Mary who had to travel a distance. Joseph might have been very near home.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Klaus, and we'd also like to thank Dr. Jeffrey Kloha of Concordia Seminary for additional historical information. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
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