Wednesday, December 9, 2015

More than one day. . .

Sermon for Advent 2C, preached by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich, on Sunday, December 6, 2015.

    Advent is certainly a season of preparation.  During these four weeks all of us hustle around as we prepare to celebrate Christmas.  We’re busy decorating our homes, sending out Christmas cards, baking cookies, buying presents and wrapping them.  All of this work, all of this preparation, is for one day of celebration.  But what about after this one day?  What effect does all this preparation have on our lives after Christmas?
    In the same way that we’re busy preparing to celebrate Christ’s coming in His birth on Christmas Day, John the Baptist was busy preparing God’s people for Christ’s coming in His earthly ministry.  He went into all the region surrounding the Jordan River proclaiming a preparatory message.  He was sent to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Lk 3:4) so that all flesh would see the salvation of God (Lk 3:6).  In this, John continued the work of all the Old Testament prophets that came before him, prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, and Malachi.  Every single one of these prophets was sent to prepare God’s people for the coming Messiah.  They were sent to make the people ready for the coming Savior, the promised seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Gn 3:15).
    God’s prophets did this work by announcing God’s judgment upon the people for their sin.  We heard one such announcement from Malachi as he spoke the Word of the Lord saying, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment.  I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me” (Mal 3:5).
    John likewise declared God’s judgement upon the sinful people, and  didn’t hold back.  He didn’t sugar coat it or beat around the bush.  He was blunt and he called the people out in their sins.  He called them a brood of vipers, children of a serpent, the deceiving serpent who once deceived Adam, and who continues to deceive us, his children today.  These sinful people were the offspring of Satan, and they followed in their father’s footsteps.  They turned away from God and did as they pleased. The abused their neighbors, sought after other gods, and didn’t trust in the Lord. 
    Because of this they deserved God’s punishment, His wrath, and John boldly announced this.  He told them what awaited them because of their sin.  “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.  Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Lk 3:9).  God’s judgment was already there for those who didn’t follow Him and bear good fruit.
    This message of God’s righteous judgement had its effect on the people.  Hearing of the destruction and fire that awaited them, they were convicted in their sin.  They feared for their lives, and they came to John and asked him what they must do.  And it was at this point that John proclaimed the second half of the prophets’ preparatory message.  He announced God’s grace, mercy, and forgiveness in the coming Messiah.  John proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk 3:3). 
    This repentance is a turning.  It’s a complete turn away from sin and a turn towards God, trusting in His mercy and forgiveness.  This forgiveness is founded on the Messiah, on Jesus Christ.  God’s forgiveness on these repentant people looked forward to Jesus’ perfect life, death on the cross, and resurrection from the tomb.  Unlike all other people, Jesus’ was not a seed of Satan.  He had no sin, and yet, on the cross He died a sinner’s death for sinners.  On the cross He endured the fire that awaits all trees that don’t produce good fruit.  And because of this substitutionary death, those who heard John the Baptist’s message and who repented from their sin were forgiven. 
    And this is the same for you and me today.  Like the people of old who were prepared for Christ’s coming by John, we too need to be prepared, not just for Christmas Day, but for every day on the calendar.  Just as they were prepared by hearing John’s proclamation of God’s judgement, so too do we need to hear God’s judgment.  We’re a brood of vipers.  We’re born with original sin and everything we think, say, and do is tainted by it.  We follow after the great deceiving serpent Satan and turn away from God and do as we please.  We abuse our neighbors, speaking ill of them and refusing to help them in their need.  We trust in our careers and in money more than we trust in God.  We are the trees that don’t produce good fruit, and we deserve to be chopped down and thrown into the fire. 
    We must repent, turn from our sin and turn towards Christ, trusting in His grace and mercy, His forgiveness.  Forgiveness that Christ earned for you on the cross.  Forgiveness that you’ve received in baptism.   
    When the people heard God’s judgement upon them, they repented and asked John what they should do.  Their repentance and baptism prepared them for their Savior’s coming, and it changed them.  It turned them into good trees, and they wanted to produce good fruit.  So, John explained to them what this good fruit was.  He told the crowd to share with those who have none.  He told tax collectors to only take what they were authorized to take.  He told soldiers to not abuse their power and to be content with what they had (Lk 3:10-14).  John explained what a righteous repentant life looked like.  He didn’t prescribe the works required for righteousness, but he described the good works, the good fruit, that should be expected to follow repentance and the reception of God’s forgiveness. 
    Repentance that doesn’t translate into concrete activity, a change in behavior  from sinful actions to God pleasing ones, is worthless and leads to judgement.  What good is repentance if one continues to live the same sinful life as they did before?  This shows a lack of repentance, a lack of turning from sin and turning to Christ, a lack of trust in the forgiveness that He earned on the cross and freely gives.   
    When we repent of our sin and receive forgiveness, life, and salvation in Christ, our lives should change.  They should look different.  Our thoughts shouldn’t be the same lustful, covetous, vengeful thoughts.  Our words shouldn’t be the same hurtful, prejudice, blasphemous words.  Our actions shouldn’t be the the same selfish, destructive, ungodly actions.  Instead they should be God pleasing, loving, and in service of our neighbor.  Having been united with Christ in our baptism, we should bear the good fruits of repentance (Lk 3:8), because we are filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ (Phil 1:11).  Our love for one another and for others should abound more and more each day (Phil 1:9).  We should share with those who have none, helping others in their earthly needs.  We should work faithfully in our vocations, doing the work that God has given us to do in service to others. 
    Now this doesn’t mean we’ll become perfect.  We’ll still stumble and fall, we’ll still bear sinful fruit, and that’s why our whole lives are to be lives of preparation, lives of repentance.  We daily need to turn from our sin and trust in Christ, in His forgiveness, forgiveness that we receive in baptism.  Martin Luther put it best in his Small Catechism when he said baptism “indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”  In baptism our Old Adam, are sinful nature is killed, and we’re raised anew in Christ, given His righteousness, bearing fruit that is pleasing to God.
    John the Baptist came proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Through this preparatory proclamation sinners heard God’s judgment and turned from their sin, trusting in the forgiveness of Christ.  And in this repentance their lives were changed.  They turned from their sin and produced good fruit.  We hear John’s preparatory message this Advent, and we continue to hear it throughout all the seasons, for we too need to be prepared for Christ’s coming, His second coming.  We daily need to repent of our sinful lives, and turn to Christ for forgiveness.  And in this repentance our actions are changed.  We produce good fruits and lovingly serve God and others, for we have been forgiven and united with Christ in baptism.  In Jesus’ name…Amen.

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