Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Rejoicing in Repentance

Sermon for Advent 3C, preached on Sunday, December 16, 2018, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

    The Old name for this Sunday is Gaudete, which means rejoice.  It’s the first word we sang in the Introit and rejoicing is a major theme in all of the readings.  The prophet Zephaniah called God’s people to shout aloud and rejoice.  Paul famously encouraged the Philippians to rejoice always.  In the Gospel reading from Luke, even though rejoicing isn’t mentioned specifically, you can be sure that the people Jesus healed rejoiced.  And rejoicing as a theme makes sense this time of the year as we get closer and closer to Christmas. 
    We rejoice in the traditions of Christmas, in the celebrations, spending time with family and friends, some of whom we only get to see once or twice a year.  We rejoice in the dinners and holiday treats.  We rejoice in presents, receiving gifts and giving them.  Rejoicing is part of Christmas, not just because of the traditions, but because our Savior.
    We celebrate and remember our Lord who came to us to save us from sin and death.  Jesus was born to die so that you would live.  So as we think about our Lord who was born on Christmas, the only fitting response is rejoicing. 
     But rejoicing isn’t the main theme of Advent.  Advent is a time of preparation, a time of looking forward to the coming of our Savior.  During these 4 short weeks we not only prepare to receive Christ on Christmas, but to receive Him when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.  This was the whole purpose of John the Baptist.  God sent him to be His messenger to prepare the way of the Lord; to make ready the people of God to receive Jesus as He began His ministry.  John did this by proclaiming repentance, calling people to turn from their sins.  Through repentance we prepare for the Lord; therefore, Advent is a time of repentance...a time for us to turn from our sin and look to Christ.
    We don’t often consider the call to repentance as joyful.  John’s message of repentance was a hard one to hear.  He called people a brood of vipers.  He pointed out their sin and proclaimed the wrath and they deserved because of it.  This was why John was in prison.  He rebuked Herod for his adultery with his brother’s wife and Herod didn’t like that.  So, he tried to shut John up by locking him up. 
    Are you ever like Herod?  Are you ever like the Pharisees and scribes who refused to hear John?  Yes you are, and so am I.  None of us like to hear about our sin.  We don’t like it when others point it out, rightfully telling us to stop it and repent.  We don’t like to hear messages of judgement.  We only want to hear praise and affirmation.  We want to her sermons that make us feel good, sermons that tell us everything is okay.  And if anyone points out our sin, well then we attack.  We return that favor, maliciously pointing out all of our accuser's faults.  We quip, “Judge not lest ye be judged.”  We self-justify, explaining away our guilt any way we can.  Never do we receive a call to repentance with rejoicing.  Never do we thank a pastor for a heavy Law sermon.  Never to welcome someone’s words of warning...and yet, we should. 
     Repentance should be a joy for us.  We should welcome words of warning.  We should receive God’s Law with thankfulness because these are words of love.   The Lord calls you back in repentance because He doesn’t want you to suffer the punishment of eternal death.  He calls you to repentance because He wants you to receive Christ’s forgiveness.  Hearing the words of God’s Law, repenting of your sin, confessing them before Him, this should all be a joy, not because you find pleasure in it, or because it feels good, but because of Christ’s absolution that you receive. 
It’s difficult to confess our sins, especially privately with the pastor or with the person we’ve sinned against.  It’s uncomfortable to truly examine our lives, to face our shame and guilt, and to voice what we want to keep hidden.  And yet, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, with faith and trust in God’s mercy, we speak our sins aloud.  We come before God on our knees, we come before His pastors, we come before our brothers and sisters in Christ, confessing our sin, so that we might receive and hear our Savior’s forgiving words.  This we rejoice in, and this God rejoices in.
    We’re not the only ones who rejoice in the forgiveness of sins.  When you repent and turn from your sin, God rejoices, He rejoices in you.  The prophet Zephaniah said, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zeph 3:17).  The Lord wants your repentance.  He wants you to turn to Him, confessing your sin.  He wants to give you forgiveness.  That’s why He sent His Son.  That’s why our Savior took on our flesh, so that He could die to pay for your sins.  That’s why the Lord sends His messengers to speak His Law, so that you would hear it and repent.  In Jesus’ famous parables of the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin He said, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10).  God and His angels rejoice over you when you repent.  All of heaven delights in the forgiveness you receive. 
    The reason we rejoice this time of the year is because we look forward to the celebration of Christ’s birth.  We rejoice in our Savior and the salvation He gives.  We rejoice in God’s call to repentance.  This call is a gracious act of love.  Our Father wants you to turn from your sin.  Our Father doesn’t want you to receive the just punishment for your sin; that’s why He sent His Son to be born and die.  So during Advent, as you prepare to receive our Lord, not just on Christmas but on the Last, rejoice in His call to repentance.  Rejoice in going to confession, because that’s where you hear His absolution...that’s where you receive your Savior and the gift of His forgiveness.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

1 comment:

John J. Flanagan said...

Thank you for sharing. Wonderful and thoughtful message.