This sermon is based on an Advent series by Dr. Reed Lessing.
There is no audio for today’s sermon.
Advent Midweek 2
December 7, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church – New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
Last week we began our meditation on family life with the first part of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Because of God’s gracious gift of a child to the childless Zechariah and Elizabeth, we saw that God builds families—both our earthly families, and the eternal family of all the faithful. Today we will continue in the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth to find out what happens when even those God-built families fall into conflict.
Conflict in families is inevitable. Whenever you put two poor, miserable sinners in close proximity to each other for any significant amount of time, there will be arguments, hurt feelings, deceptions, and potentially much worse. The reason why conflicts arise is because the nature of sin is to be curved in on yourself. I want things my way. Me, me, me. My, my, my. I, I, I. “I don’t want to go on vacation where you want to go.” “That’s my stuffed animal! You can’t have it.” “Don’t you dare talk to me that way!” When two sinners are in close proximity to each other for any significant amount of time, the gravitational pull of their sinful natures is like a tug of war that’s about to make the rope snap.
When “my way” begins to reach a breaking point, you might move to, “No way.” Shut it down. Avoid the conflict. Kill discussion. Change the subject. But that is simply a variation of, “My way.” It’s passive aggression, and it moves the conflict to the back burner where it continues to simmer, until it’s been ignored for long enough and boils over—usually because of some insignificant, unrelated perceived slight.
Then to move on the complete opposite side of the spectrum of passive aggression is, “Your way.” Fine, have it your way. In an attempt to avoid conflict, you actually create more. Instead of relieving the tension, you can cut it with a knife. Nothing is solved. And that’s because, again, it’s a variation of, “My way.” It’s the manifestation of the sinful nature, but instead of insisting on winning my way, it’s a way of trying to secure a win out of a loss.
The nature of sin is to be inwardly focused, to worry about me, myself, and I before all things. But when two sinners are put together, it’s kind of like a magnet. A magnet arranged in one way will draw together, but arranged in the opposite direction, they will repel. You can hardly press them together. What we really need to realize about conflict is that it’s not the conflict that’s the problem; it’s the way we handle the conflict. The problem isn’t the vacation destination, or the one toy, or the words we use. It’s the way we deal with those things. Handled incorrectly, or left unchecked, even the smallest of conflicts can tear a family relationship apart. Think about the silly things that have turned into major sources of contention in your families. It’s because you insist on having things your way.
There is another option. Instead of my way, or the variations of no way or your way, there is “Our way.” This is not a natural way of approaching conflict; it needs to be taught and modeled and cultivated. Our way is taking the needs of your neighbor into account at the very beginning, dealing compassionately with them in conflict, and working to find a solution that benefits everyone.
“Our way,” means finding something at a vacation destination that excites everyone. “Our way,” is finding a solution for all kids to enjoy the household toys. “Our way,” is constructive conversations that don’t minimize differences, but seek to find creative solutions to solve conflicts. It’s not about pulling harder on the tug-of-war rope, or dropping the rope altogether, allowing your opponent to fall. It’s about finding another way.
But you don’t really need God’s Word to figure this out. Self help books can teach you to think win/win and to work together, to find common goals and resolve conflicts. Non-Christians make good families all the time.
Our way can also lead to destruction—of the family, to be sure, but also eternal destruction. If the entire family is united in its resolve to deliberately avoid God’s way, then no matter how free of conflict it is, its end is not a good end. If family takes the place of the Father, Son, and Spirit, then family itself has become a false God.
Recall that Zechariah had lost his voice on account of his doubt of God’s promise. Yeah, it was a punishment, but God had more in store for Zechariah’s extended case of laryngitis. On the eighth day they came to circumcise the baby. They were going to call him Zacharias because that was his father’s name. But his mother spoke up. “No!” she said. “He’s going to be called John.” (Lk 1:59-60). A strange name for a family without any Johns in it. Zechariah Jr. would be much more fitting. But dad did not have it his way, or no way, or their way. Then they motioned to his father to see what name he might want him to have. He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, saying, “His name is John.” They were all surprised. Just then he got his speech back and could talk again. He began to speak, praising God (Lk 1:62-64).
Zechariah and Elizabeth came together in God’s way. Both of them chose “John” as their son’s name because of the angel’s prophecy and command. Names in the Bible often are more than labels to distinguish one person from another. They say something about who the person is. The name “John” means, “the Lord is gracious.” And that’s God’s way. The way of grace. It’s a bit ironic that the fiery preacher of repentance and judgment would be called, “the Lord is gracious.” But where God’s judgment and wrath and punishment are revealed, there God’s grace is revealed even more clearly.
John is the preacher that points us in the way of the cross. He shows us the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His baptism is one of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins. This is the way of God, the way of judgment unto grace.
This is also the way of your family. Whether you deftly deal with your family conflicts or are always at each other’s throats, the only way, our way as Christians, is the way of grace. The way of forgiveness. You don’t earn your place in this family. It’s yours as a gift.
When Our Way Is Also God’s Way, That Is the Way of Grace
In the name of +Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard