Sunday, December 7, 2014

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday of Advent (December 7, 2014)

LUKE 3:1-6

In the name + of Jesus.

     It was not once upon a time.  It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea. (Luke 3:1)  I guess you could argue that it was in a land far, far away.  But that’s not to say it was in Neverland or Narnia.  It was in the wilderness at the Jordan River.  And it was not among hobbits or klingons.  The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.  And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:2-3)  A real God called a true prophet to go and preach a serious message to people who desperately needed it. 
    His message was not simply that people should learn to behave themselves and clean up their act.  That much was true, but it was more.  Some 400 years prior, Malachi had proclaimed the word of the Lord: Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.  And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come….  But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?  For he is like a refiner's fire… (Malachi 3:1-2)  John the Baptist came in fulfillment to prepare people for their coming Messiah, for their God.   
     John the Baptist was a real prophet who was sent to call people to true repentance.  For God would soon enter history.  God would come to them in the flesh, and they did not want to be caught merrily going on in their sinful rebellion against him.  Their sins were real, just as yours are.  If you don’t think your sins are real, ask the people whom you sin against.  Ask the spouse who has to pick up the slack because, in your selfishness, you didn’t feel like getting out of your chair to help out.  Ask the driver you cut off because your schedule was more important than his presence.  Ask the girl you are sweet to just so you can take advantage of her.  Ask the coworker you brushed off again because he is incompetent, not that brushing him off will help him become competent.  All our sins are very real and very harmful.  Even if you insist that your sins are harming nobody, that is a lie.  Ask the parents whose teen just committed suicide if his sin effected only him.  Even if you claim that you should be granted your freedom to do what you want, your sins are an offense to God whose word you reject in favor of your whims.  Sins are real.  They are really harmful.  And they are really damnable.
     The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come…  But who can endure the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears? (Malachi 3:1-2)  Your conscience tells you that this is no game.  Your guilt is real because you really must give an answer to God for everything.  Just as your sins are not mythical, neither is God’s judgment against them. That is why John the Baptist was sent to preach repentance.  And that is why the message remains the same.
     Prepare the way for the Lord by repentance.  “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.  Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-5)  By repentance, you put away your sins which would hinder the Lord from coming to you.  By repentance, you recognize that you are lacking in righteousness.  By repentance, you remember that your sin is an obstacle that stands between you and God.  You realize that you have gone your own way and that your path has been crooked.  We all are guilty of sins, but we multiply our guilt when we make excuses for them.  Prepare the way for the Lord by repentance.
     John the Baptist was “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Luke 3:4)  Of course, simply recognizing your problem does not fix the problem.  Michigan residents understand what poor roads are like.  We serve to avoid the potholes.  We even amuse ourselves with contests for where the biggest pothole is.  But the driver who hits that pothole and has to pay for a new suspension is not amused.  We all recognize the problem.  I am willing to bet that every politician in Lansing recognizes the problem, too.  The issue is always about where the money is going to come from to the fix the problem.  Likewise, you may recognize your sins.  You may hope that others can steer around your faults and not suffer on account of them.  You may even been sorry for the damage you’ve done to others because of your sins, but that does not take them away.
     Therefore, hear the word of the Lord, Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:5,6, emphasis added)  You will notice that fixing the problem is not something you do.  On the contrary, the Lord tells you that it is something that will be done.  Repentance is not only that you see that your sins are a destructive and damnable problem, repentance is also seeing that you cannot fix it.  Repentance is not only feeling sorry, it is also trusting in your Savior’s mercy to restore all things.  Therefore, you shall see the salvation of God.  God comes in the flesh to fix everything for you.
     You shall not soothe your conscience with some mythical forgiveness.  There is no theoretical divine pass for real sins.  Mythical forgiveness is no forgiveness at all.  Instead, all flesh shall see the salvation of God. (Luke 3:6)  God comes in the flesh for all people.  He comes to fill in the holes for you.  God comes in the flesh to remove the obstacles for you.  God comes to straighten out everything that has gone crooked.
     Jesus Christ is the man who fills in everything that is lacking.  He does not say it is okay if you did not do the good God demands.  Jesus just does the good for you.  He loves his neighbor—not just the theoretical neighbor whom he can afford to love because he will never have to deal with him.  Jesus loved the disciples who tried his patience when they did not understand his teachings.  Jesus loved the sick and the sorrowful when they begged for his time and his attention.  Jesus loved the Pharisees even as they were plotting his death.  And Jesus loves you, even though you have let him down by falling back into your sin ways again.  Jesus has loved you by answering God’s commandments for you.  Jesus completely fills everything in so that you have no gaps.  The path is smooth.  You are not lacking in righteousness.  Jesus is the way. 
     Jesus also removes every obstacle for you.  He takes away all your sins.  You see your salvation by the way Jesus has dealt with your iniquities.  Jesus paid a real price for your sins by brutal suffering, profuse bleeding, and dying in shame hanging naked from a cross.  He endured true, divine wrath from his Father.  This is what sins deserve, and this is what Jesus received in order to grant you a full pardon for all of your sins.  Just as Jesus’ sufferings and death were real, so your forgiveness is real.  Just as Jesus’ resurrection is cemented in history, so your hope for the resurrection to everlasting life is set in cement.  The obstacle that had stood between you and God has been removed.  Your sins are taken away.  The crooked path is straight.  Your death has been swept away.  The road to heaven has been cleared.  Jesus is the way.
     And still, John the Baptist cries out: Prepare the way for the Lord by repentance.  Satan does not leave you alone.  Your own sinful flesh has not conceded the battle.  You are still drawn to your sins over and over again.  And so, repentance goes on day after day.  In the season of Advent, we give special attention to repentance; for we are preparing for the coming of Jesus.  But we do not prepare in a spirit of dread, as if Jesus is coming for a surprise inspection, trying to catch us doing something crooked.  Rather, we prepare in a spirit of anticipation, knowing that Jesus is coming with our salvation.  His first coming secured a real peace that comes from his forgiveness, and his second coming means a real and eternal peace that brings us to the blessings of heaven.  Prepare for the Lord with repentance.  Your Lord is coming, and you will see his salvation.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.