Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sermon -- 2nd Sunday in Advent (December 4, 2016)

2 PETER 3:8-14


In the name + of Jesus.

     John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-2)  John did not suggest even for a moment that there was time for one more fling or for the people to get something out of their system.  John's message was not, “Pretty soon you will have to repent.”  John warned of imminent judgment.  Repent!  Repent now!  Sins cannot be ignored or played with.  They bring judgment.  Judgment is at hand.  Repent!  Repent now!
     About 30 years after John the Baptist preached, Peter was writing his epistle.  He was assuring the Christians who were scattered throughout the Roman Empire that the Lord had not forgotten them.  The day of the Lord would come.  Whatever they were suffering for the sake of Jesus would come to a blessed end.  And like John the Baptist, Peter did not suggest that there was time to be lazy about faith, repentance, and good works.  Not even the suffering they were enduring was a good enough excuse to take a break from serving Christ in words and deeds.  In the case of these Christians, the issue was not that they were dallying in sins; it was making sure that they were not neglecting Christ's gifts or resting from faithful service to him.  This neglect is also sin—not a sin of commission which doing what is evil, but a sin of omission which is failing to do what is good.  St. Peter reminds us that we cannot procrastinate doing what is good, as if there is time to get around to it later.  So Peter's Advent message is the same as John the Baptist's, and it is the same today.  Repent, for the day of the Lord will come.
     John the Baptist preached about 30 AD.  St. Peter wrote his epistles roughly 60 AD.  We are almost 2,000 years removed from those, and the day of the Lord has not yet come.  It tempts all of us to be lax about the Christian faith and to procrastinate with repentance and good works.  Peter himself acknowledges this:  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come... (2 Peter 3:9-10)  
     If history has taught us any lessons, it is that mankind does not take the Lord very seriously.  You can read through your Bible and learn over and over again how people have not feared the Lord or regarded his word.  Take Noah, for example.  Noah preached both by words and actions.  Noah couldn't build an ark that size in secret.  When asked why he was building it, Noah warned the people of God's coming judgment.  But no one feared the Lord.  No one heeded his word.  Despite the ridicule and rejection, Noah continued to faithfully serve in what the Lord had given him to do—both in building the ark and in confessing God's word.  The people would not be bothered with repentance.  They did not take the Lord's judgment seriously.  So, but went on with their lives, both in productive and destructive works—but all without faith.
     If history has taught us any lessons, it is that the Lord is to be taken seriously.  When he gives his Law, he expects it to be obeyed.  Since he is the Lord of all, he expects all to obey it.  And when we sin against the Lord, he follows through on his judgment.  The world was destroyed by a flood in Noah's day, as the people mocked Noah's ark and ignored his preaching.  The Lord's judgment had never been a secret.  And it finally did come, as promised, even when it was not believed.  Likewise, fiery judgment came upon Sodom.  Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians, and later again by Roman armies.  All were forewarned by the Lord.  Mostly, the word of the Lord was ignored.
     Be mindful of this: The day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. (2 Peter 3:10)  The day of the Lord will come.  Though it delay, wait for it.  The Lord has not forgotten his redeemed, and he is not ignorant of those who mock you for believing his word and living your lives according to it.  And do not forget the Lord's word, lest you too no longer take it seriously.
     The season of Advent is not only a time of waiting for the Lord's return, it is also an illustration of it.  Already, the world parties and celebrates the holidays.  Some do not really even know what they are celebrating.  But who can resist a good, rousing party?  People feast and drink and give themselves to decadence, laughter, and entertainment.  The world throws a good party because it does not believe it has to face judgment.  If you won't take God seriously, why would you care about anything else?
     The Church, however, is not feasting yet.  We are waiting for the coming of the Lord.  The waiting is frustrating because we are eager for Christ to come.  The waiting is hard because when we see so many who don't care, we start to wonder why we do.  But the day of the Lord will come, and it will come with fiery judgment.  It will come with the destruction of the world and it will expose the deeds of all people.  It will come suddenly, and though it is no secret, it will be a surprise to the many who have hear the warnings and laugh at them, who refuse to repent, and who even say they are Christians but procrastinate in their repentance and neglect God's word.
     This sermon has become one of the more dismal ones preached here in recent memory.  But it is good for us to be reminded that fiery judgment is coming on the earth and on those who love it.  God is to be taken seriously.  Therefore, we heed the warnings of John the Baptist and St. Peter: Repent!  Repent now!  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and (striving for) the coming of the day of God...  Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:11-12,14 translation edited by the preacher)  
     If you long to be delivered from the judgment to come, then continue to flee to the one who is our refuge from all judgment—Jesus Christ.  He comes in the word which is preached, declaring to you that Jesus mercifully delivers you from the judgment against you.  He has lived in obedience for us.  He has suffered and died for us to atone for all our sins.  He has covered our sins of omission where we have neglected the word of God and prayer and procrastinated in good works.  He has cleansed us of our sins of commission where were have boldly sinned because we did not think that God would really follow through on judgment.  But God has followed through.  The judgment that stood against us was poured out on Jesus.  He has endured hellish death for us so that we will be granted a blessed death and a good judgment.  Jesus is our Savior from the fiery judgment that is coming upon the earth.  What's more, Jesus not only delivers us from fiery judgment, he delivers us to a blessed heaven.  For, according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13)  That is the coming of Jesus which we look forward to.
     Until that day, we wait patiently for our Lord's return.  We fight against temptation, we confess our sins and renounce them, and we amend what we can in our lives and relationships.  Like Noah, we commit ourselves to all that our Lord has given us to do—to prayer, to diligent service, and to confessing the word of the Lord even in the face of ridicule and rejection.  Though the world will not our Lord seriously, we will so that we will not be fall from God's grace and salvation.
     The day of the Lord will come.  Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. (2 Peter 3:14)  In other words, flee to Jesus again and again.  We flee to Jesus for his salvation.  And we become so accustomed to fleeing to Jesus for good things that, while the world weeps and gnashes its teeth at Jesus' return, we will rejoice.  For we know that the Savior who suffered all things in order to save us from a fiery judgment will deliver us to the home of righteousness and will pour out his blessings upon us forevermore.  As John the Baptist and St. Peter urge us, we repent now.  But then, when the day of the Lord comes, we shall feast forevermore.

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