Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 4, 2015 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Luke 2:40-52
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed! Amen.
Waiting....searching....do you know what that feels like? That's surely what those December days before Christmas felt like, right? Children will tell you that those days between Thanksgiving and Christmas are an eternity. Grownups, too, were part of that anxious anticipation. Together, you counted down the days. The anticipation was built. Presents gathered under the tree. You decorated, celebrated, and orchestrated gatherings and feasts. And now, for many, it's done. It's over, right?
How about the New Year's Eve wait? Maybe this year was a year of waiting. And now the midnight of last year has come and gone. The ball in New York City is in storage for next year. 2015 is in full swing. Tomorrow you may be back to work, back to school, or back to the routine. The waiting is over. Or is it?
I suspect that you, even now, may still be doing your share of waiting. The cultural, holiday hype might be over, but you might be waiting still in your heart today. Are you still waiting for money issues to clear up--especially after that holiday hit? Are you still waiting for a relationship to improve--perhaps with a new resolve this year? Are you waiting for new, hopefully good news about your health; about a job? As the waiting continues, do you find yourself eager, frustrated, anxious, fearful, and downhearted all at the same time?
That's how Peggy Harris felt for sixty-eight years. You see, Peggy married the love of her life, Billie Harris, just six weeks before he was deployed overseas in World War II. Billie was a fighter pilot. On July 17, 1944, he took to the skies for a mission over Nazi-occupied northern France. He never returned.
That summer of 1944, Peggy received word that Billie was missing in action. Then she received news that he was alive and on his way home. Then she was told that he was killed in action and his remains were at a cemetery in Europe. Then the cemetery location was changed. Then she heard that the grave might not be his at all. So Peggy waited. She waited for months; and then for years. She wrote her congressman to try to find out whatever happened to Billie. She waited and waited and wrote and wrote again and again--for over 60 years!
A few years ago, Billie's cousin decided to see what he could do for Peggy. He made a request for his military records and he found the answer. Billie was lost in action on that fateful day in 1944. He was buried at one of the most famous military cemeteries ever: in Normandy, France, with a white marble cross marking his grave. Finally, he was found!
And Peggy waited the whole time. She never remarried. She loved Billie. These days she sends flowers ten times every year to adorn his grave. Cemetery officials say that she is the last widow who still visits her loved one there. And Peggy is glad to do it. After sixty-eight years of wondering and waiting, she finally received her answer.
I wonder if you feel a bit like Peggy Harris. Maybe you haven't been waiting for sixty-eight years, but your wait feels long and it feels difficult. It's not merely causing you anxiety; it's literally taking the life out of you. You wonder if you can make it any further.
I want to tell you today, dear friend, that you do not wait alone and that God is in the business of fulfilling His promises to all who wait on Him. The whole Bible recounts the actions of God for us. Even the main teaching is about God coming at the right time for the world so that all might be saved. You know the verse. It says, "God so loved the world that He sent His only Son" to live, to die, to rise again for you! He is the One who promises that He will never leave you nor forsake you.
For you, today, as you wait in worry or fear or eager impatience, God comes through even in the midst of your anxious wait. His living Word is here to encourage you. His everlasting love is yours to lift you up. The Bible reminds us in Psalm 27 that even in the middle of struggles and pain, "Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!" (Psalms 27:14 ESV)
You can patiently trust God today even amidst the waiting because your Savior, your Lord stands with you to be your strength, even now.
But it's so difficult, isn't it? Being patient is not our natural persuasion. We're not willing waiters. We want to get on with it. We want life to move forward right now. We want instant results. We're a microwave world and a hurried, harassed culture. Our desire is to get to the next step right now. The faster it can happen, the better it is, we think. And much of the world meets our need for speed.
Now, with certain things, fast can be innovative; it can be good. But our impatience can also lead to a life of pain. Especially when life slows down on its own terms, or when life spins out of our control. Then our speedy expectations can lead to unbearable heartache and grief.
There are times, despite our modern inventions, despite our advances technologically, when life slows down, times when answers come too slowly, times when we are left to wait, and wait, and wait.
And if you're honest with me today, when you are waiting anxiously, it's often because you are disappointed with God's response. Maybe you don't think He is concerned about you at all. So, like we all tend to do, we take matters into our own hands, we make our own plans--doing things our way for immediate answers and satisfaction. Often, that temporary solution gives way to even more waiting, more disappointment, and more anxiety.
Waiting anxiously becomes a sin when we give in to that temptation that we somehow care about our life more than God does. It's exactly the opposite. God loves you with an eternal love. Whatever is happening in your life today it can't separate us from His love, His grace, His power.
That's what our text for today is teaching. Jesus shows us how to wait with hope; how to deal with the things in this life in full view of the Father's promises and love. The most important thing throughout one's life...is to be connected by faith to God, in His House, in His presence, in His Word with a family of believers! If you need patience, if you need help for the waiting that you're enduring, the Son of God, in the coming weeks, will take you on a journey that provides encouragement, refreshment for your soul, and staying power as you wait.
You see, Jesus understands what it means to wait. Let me ask you this question. What did Jesus do most in His time on earth? Miracles? Teaching? Preaching? No. He waited most of all. In Luke, chapter two, we hear the twelve-year-old Jesus was eager to start His ministry--so eager that He even appears to forget about His own family for a time! Verses 41-46 tell us: And when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it....they began to search for him.....After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions" (Luke 2:41-46).
Jesus caused quite a bit of distress for his mom and dad. But as the Son of God on a mission to seek and save the lost, He couldn't hold back. He felt the urgency of His important purpose. And even at twelve years old, His listeners were amazed at His comments and His answers.
You can't blame Mary and Joseph for being in distress. You can hear it in Mary's voice. It says: His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress" (Luke 2:48-49).
But Jesus replied with eagerness: "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49)
Jesus' parents didn't understand what He was telling them at the moment. He was aware, He was ready, but even Jesus knew that, instead of starting His ministry right then and there, He needed to wait. So Luke tells us: And he went down with them, came to Nazareth and was submissive to his parents. And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and with man (Luke 2:51-52).
So Jesus waited. He waited for twelve years before He had a chance to go to the temple. He got a taste of His ministry during those few days in Jerusalem, but then he had to wait again. It would be another eighteen years before Jesus started His ministry at age 30.
If you've been waiting for a long time, you're not alone. For most of His life, Jesus waited. Yes, He was eager. Yes, He had a deep and abiding desire to do the Father's work of redeeming and restoring the world. Yes, He was passionate about His mission that would involve the sacrifice of His life for the sake of all. But even He, as the God-Man who came in your place for your salvation; even He had to wait for the proper time.
Please be encouraged by this. Please hear that Jesus understands your restlessness, your fear, your feelings of helplessness, and your downheartedness. He gets it. He knows what it's like to wait. But He also provides a path through waiting just for you. I call it Christ's secret path to patience, in plain sight for all to see.
Our solution to waiting seems always to be, "Oh, Lord, give me the answer right now." Even with patience, we tend to pray: "Lord, give me patience, and give that to me now too!" Jesus' focus was different. His concern was about the things of God always and being prepared for the answers that were to come, no matter the wait.
For Him, the key in all things was to always be fed and nourished by God's Word. His visit to the temple in Jerusalem reflected Jesus' ongoing immersion in the Word of God. Do you remember how He quoted God's Word when He was tempted by the devil at the beginning of His ministry? Jesus heard and He learned the Scriptures. These became His firm foundation and an important tool to face adversity--including the challenge of waiting.
If you want to wait effectively, you need a steady diet of God's Word. Remember, the Bible is not just another book; it's living, it's active, it's precious wisdom, reliable promises from God Himself. God's Word refreshes your soul and it brings you new life. It is essential to making the long journey of life as a person who waits. When you feel panicky or forgotten, God's Word steadies you and gives you a bigger picture for that perspective. It reminds you of God's faithfulness and fills you with a supernatural peace. It's a key to waiting out anything effectively.
Read the Gospel of John, read the Psalms, or request devotional material from us here at Lutheran Hour Ministries because the Word of God is the fuel you need while you wait.
Second, when it comes to patience, Jesus sought the company of others. When He was twelve years old, He went to the Temple. His presence in His Father's house meant being in the company of fellow believers for learning, for encouragement. God's house, His Church, is a place of believers gathered around His Word, sharing, learning, serving in the power that only He can provide. You weren't ever meant to be alone!
I know for many of you out there this program is such a blessing to you and I am honored to be with you every week. I pray that you keep listening, keep sharing this with others, but if you are able, you need to also be connected to fellow believers, to God's Holy ministry in His Church. His gifts were meant to be received and shared!
And, finally, third, Jesus devoted Himself to prayer as He waited. We hear about Jesus' practice of prayer in Mark, chapter one: Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed (Mark 1:35 NIV).
If you're in the position of waiting, prayer is essential. Prayer is when you bring your burdens and struggles to God. You cast your cares on Him. If you don't, you'll end up carrying them around with you. And while God may not give you what you want immediately, He is there with you always, sustaining you as you walk the road of your challenge.
The Word of God, the company of other believers, and the gift of prayer: all these blessings center on one thing: being in relationship with your Savior Jesus, to receive and to share His gifts. Patience is a "God's Word, God's House" gift! You grow in patience by God Himself growing it in you and through you. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit as He lives in you and works in you through His Word. Jesus, who suffered all on the cross, who suffered the eternal anxiety of being separated from the Father because of our sin, His life, His death, and resurrection, they are proof that in faith, waiting on God, waiting with God, and waiting for God; it's always worth the wait!
Isaiah, chapter 40, brings some of the most compelling encouragement, then, for our patience. To the burdened and struggling listener who was waiting for God's restoration, the prophet proclaimed: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is an everlasting God.... He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, young men shall fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:28-31).
That's the Gospel power for patience in this life laid out for all to see! It's the promise that God will be faithful to you through it all. His promises will always be fulfilled for you; maybe not in this day or that, but ultimately in the joy and promise of an eternal life with Him.
God's promises are the power to live boldly in His grace right now and because you know that no matter what is happening in your life at this moment, you are secure in God's hands because of Jesus' work for you on the cross.
That's how our church in New York waited. As we prayed for a place to worship back in the '90s; with no money, no building to gather, with only prayerful hope and the anticipation of God's blessing for us and our neighborhood, seemingly out of the blue, a church building worth 2.5 million dollars was donated to our mission; incredible, miraculous, something that was pure gift. I always remember thinking amidst all of our waiting; if God wants something done, there will be the resources, the people, the time to do the work. If not, there will be something else wonderful to do.
In fact, that's how a precious relative of mine, now in heaven, that's also how she waited; as she prayed for her husband, year after year after year, prayed for him to come to faith. Jesus walked with her, and He waited with her, and He heard her prayers. After decades of waiting, her husband received the gift of life and salvation through Jesus Christ.
I know it's weary to wait. I know that circumstances can seem overwhelming. So, this year, do you find yourself searching and waiting? Then take Jesus' example to heart. Let the things of God be central to your life, let the Good News of Jesus Christ, the power of His Gospel, fill you with the patience that comes in knowing that God cares for you always, He is with you, and through it all, waiting on Him, with Him, and through Him, is a wait that is worth it for you and for those you love. Here's to a Blessed New Year always to you in Him.
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for January 4, 2015 Topic: How Can I Start a Devotional Life?
ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions from listeners. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, with the New Year just starting; how might one begin or develop a stronger devotional life?
SELTZ: Mark, how refreshing to hear someone who is thinking about their relationship with God for the New Year.
ANNOUNCER: Much of the focus is often on improving one's diet and exercise or stopping bad habits; it's good to remember the importance of our spiritual lives.
SELTZ: Think about it. Our faith-life is foundational to every other aspect of our lives. Good stewardship of the body or financial resources, it flows from a healthy walk with God too. Overcoming harmful habits can only be accomplished with the strength and resources that are provided by the Spirit of God.
ANNOUNCER: So how can our listener begin or develop a stronger spiritual life?
SELTZ: Let's start by defining what a devotional life is. The definition is in the word. It's time we devote to God. Some key components of that devotional life are the study of God's Word, reflection on it, conversation about it, and time devoted to prayer.
ANNOUNCER: Does a devotional life have to be a singular, individual pursuit?
SELTZ: No, in fact that would be a misunderstanding of a devotionally full life with Christ. Yes, there are personal times with the Lord in study and prayer, but more so, there are times to learn and grow with your spouse, your family, your church. The bottom line is that we get to have flexibility and creativity in putting these blessings to work in our lives.
ANNOUNCER: With that understood, where do you start?
SELTZ: The best place to start is with God's Word. It is so important to have His voice speaking into our lives.
ANNOUNCER: Because there are so many other voices that bombard us day after day.
SELTZ: Most definitely. Bad news comes at us on every front twenty-four hours a day. Influences that pull us away from Jesus, they're active and they can be overwhelming. It is essential to let God have His say with His living Word, that Word that cleanses our souls and renews our spirit. That's why the Bible is such a precious gift; the foundation for cultivating a devotional life.
ANNOUNCER: Where should I start reading the Bible? Do I just open it up to the book of Genesis, verse one, and start from there?
SELTZ: It's great to read the Bible cover to cover, Mark, but I would recommend a different approach. Remember, your goal is not to plow through the whole Bible. Your goal is to hear clearly God's voice in and through His Word, to let Him renew and shape your life. So, I recommend starting with one of the Gospels so a person can get to know Jesus as the Savior. I also recommend reading the smaller epistles of Paul in the New Testament for that big picture perspective.
ANNOUNCER: So, it's not about "getting through it," slow is okay. We're not cramming for exams. This is about nourishing one's soul.
SELTZ: Exactly. If something really grips you, take time in that book. Read it closely, pray. Take your time and listen to what God is saying. Then think about how that applies to your life too.
ANNOUNCER: Here also a good study Bible would help because it has links to other related verses and it would also have notes that could help you understand what God is saying in a particular passage. Would you say this is something best done in quiet, solitude, and isolation?
SELTZ: Yeah, for sure. Quiet focus is important, but finding silence is not really easy. If a person can find a quiet time or a place for devotions, it's wonderful. But these days, it might be in one's car to find the best place for pondering God's Word.
ANNOUNCER: To be clear, you're not saying we should read the Bible while driving!
SELTZ: Not at all. But after reading a verse or a chapter, the car might be a place to think about it and to begin to pray about it. The same is true for your workout time or even while you're doing the laundry.
ANNOUNCER: Prayer is another key component of a devotional life.
SELTZ: That's right. Pray while reading the Bible, pray for understanding; then afterwards, take time to pray about applying God's Word to your life. Bring your prayers of thanksgiving, confession, and supplication to Him. Ask God about what you need. Talk to Him about your life. Celebrate what God has done for you, for all people.
ANNOUNCER: Besides the Bible, what about other devotional materials?
SELTZ: First of all, about the Bible, I highly recommend it! But, there are some other excellent resources out there. In fact, Lutheran Hour Ministries has some wonderful materials available. People can contact us if they'd like to receive some of those.
ANNOUNCER: And you can reach us here at 855-John3-16 or online at www.lhm.org.
SELTZ: Yeah, but the key is get started today!
ANNOUNCER: Thank you, Pastor Seltz. 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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