A protective wall was one of the important features of the cities in first century Israel. The wall protected the city from attack by enemy forces as well as large wild animals. However, a wall by itself was not enough. An enemy could still climb over a wall. A city also needed watchmen to warn of the enemy's approach. A combination of wall and watchman was standard for most of the cities in Israel.
There were other watchmen as well. As Kings established kingdoms that included more than one city, they established guard towers at the borders of their lands and along their roads. Watchmen in these towers would report what they saw and raise the alarm if an enemy approached. The watchmen in their towers and on their walls were vital to the protection of the land.
God often compared His prophets, apostles, pastors, and teachers to watchmen. The Old Testament reading for this evening does just that. "So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me." With these words, God called Ezekiel to warn Israel of the spiritual danger in their lives.
So, this evening, we have gathered here at this spiritual guard post - this gathering place for the congregation of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. You have come to hear the report that I, your watchman, have for you, the traveler, as we consider how The LORD Comes to His Temple along the Judean Road.
You have already sung part of the report. The hymn we just sang asked us to imagine a conversation between a watchman and a traveler - a traveler who wondered about the meaning of the great signs of the night. I'm glad that you stopped at this guard post for a short time to hear and consider the signs of the night.
Many look at the Judean road that leads to Bethlehem and see nothing exciting there. Never the less, looks can be deceiving and there was a time when the most important events of all history passed by on this road. Traveling this road is the most breath-taking journey that a person will have. Why? Well, not because of the road itself, but because of those who journey upon it and where this Judean road leads and of the Savior Who passed this way.
During most of the first century and the centuries leading up to that time, this road to Bethlehem was little known and even less traveled. Bethlehem was not really much of a town. The great city of Jerusalem to the north overshadowed it. But there was a time when the road was packed. A decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. The Law of Moses required each man to return to the land of his ancestors for a census. Therefore the road to Bethlehem was packed with people who had descended from David.
Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. This child was the incarnate God who made Mary's womb into a temple and who had blessed the house of Zechariah with His Presence for three months. Now, six months after returning from Zechariah's home, to Nazareth in Galilee, Mary, her unborn Savior, and Joseph leave Galilee for the 60-70 mile journey to Bethlehem.
Dear traveler, do you not see how the LORD God managed history in order to bring His Word to pass? God used the decree of that pagan emperor Caesar Augustus to fulfill the Word that He gave to the prophet Micah some seven centuries earlier ... [Micah 5:2] But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Everything was on track for the Savior to be born in Nazareth. But then the emperor sent out a decree that moved the birth place to Bethlehem just as the prophet said.
Although we see many paintings of Mary riding on a donkey, the fact is that Mary probably walked the sixty or seventy miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem. The nine-month-old unborn Redeemer traveled in His 98.6° degree tabernacle inside of her along the Judean road to Bethlehem.
Perhaps the trio traveled slower than most, a man with a pregnant wife plodding along the Judean road. Perhaps others lived closer. Perhaps others heard the news of the tax earlier. Whatever the reason, others arrived in the city of David first and the rooms were taken and the inn was filled to capacity. As this couple came to the end of their journey on the Judean Road, the God of all creation found no place to stay.
Dear traveler, this child who found no home at the end of His journey to Bethlehem will journey throughout the land of Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Years later this child will travel to Jerusalem where He will carry the sins of the world to the cross. He will become the atoning Sacrifice for the world and die for every single one of our sins, whether sins of thought, word or deed. He will rise again on the third day, appear to His disciples for forty days, ascend into heaven, be enthroned as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. He will prepare a place for you, so that where He is, you also will be. He will be with you always and invite you into His Presence here through His Divine Service of Word and Sacrament.
If you stop by this guard post regularly, you will hear details of the things this child will do to save you. In the up-coming days, nights and weeks you will hear of this child's birth as King born in Bethlehem and His accommodations in a manger. You will hear of the day when He was named Jesus, as well as that time in Jerusalem when He was 40 days old, and also the season of the Feast when He was twelve years old in the Temple. Will you not accept the invitation to be here?
But this night during the blessed season of Advent, you are on your way to Bethlehem, aren't you? God has guided you onto and along the right way. But it is also a narrow way that leads to Bethlehem and beyond into eternity. The Lord deeply desires a joyful eternity for all people, but not everyone who stops in Bethlehem remains on the narrow way. This is not His will or His fault for He has provided what is necessary for all people to know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Even Jesus has said, [Matthew 7:13-14] "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Not everyone who stops here will make it to the end that the Lord desires for all people. Even though the Lord has provided everything we need to know that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, many will reject His loving invitation.
There are many words that describe the trek along the Judean road, but boring is not one of them. This life of faith in the LORD God is breath-taking, exciting and fraught with dangers. Some will try to seduce us to add our own work to the work of the Redeemer and so work our way away from the truth that we believe right now, namely, that we are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus and not because of our good deeds. Others will try to convince us that it is not so important what you believe as long as you are sincere and thus try to rob us of the Sacraments, God's Word and ultimately our faith in Christ Himself. Heed the warning that the Holy Spirit gave to the Apostle Paul: [Romans 16:17] I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them.
Beloved traveler, don't let anyone or anything sidetrack you from your journey along the Judean road. May God grant you the faith and strength to go to Bethlehem to behold your Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. May the LORD move you to follow Him to the Place of the Skull and lead you into and through His empty tomb. May the Lord bring you back to this guard post to hear the absolving Word of the forgiveness of all your sins.
He has given His Word and this is His Promise:
[Malachi 3:1] "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.
[Revelation 22:20] Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! Amen.
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