Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Be Prepared!

Sermon for Advent IIA, preached by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich on Sunday, December 4, 2016.

[John the Baptist said,] “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry.  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Mt 3:11). 

Being prepared is very important.  Teachers stress being prepared by doing the assigned homework.  Coaches prepare their athletes by running them through drills.  For those in the military, you know how important it is to be prepared; you train and train and train some more for any and all situations you might encounter. 

When we think about being prepared, we think about all  the things that we have to do to get ready.  We think about the supplies that need gathered and the plans that need made.  We can make ourselves ready for many things, but we can’t prepare ourselves for Christ Jesus.  There’s nothing we can do on our own that makes us ready for Him.  God is the One who prepares us for our Savior.  Through the work of the Holy Spirit, He makes us ready by bringing us to repentance and faith. 

I.A.    This is why He sent His prophet John the Baptist.  John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, the last one to herald the coming of the Christ.  Isaiah foretold this work of John saying, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight’” (Mt 3:3; Is 40:3).  John was born for this purpose.  When the angel Gabriel came to Zechariah in the temple and told him that Elizabeth his wife would give birth to a son, the angel said that John would “turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God,” that he’d “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:16, 17). 

John accomplished this God given mission by going into the wilderness of Judea and preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2).  John went out and proclaimed God’s Word of Law and Gospel.  He spoke against the people’s sin, he warned them of the wrath that awaited them for their sin; and hearing this message, the people confessed their sins.  They turned from their sinful lives and were converted to faith, trusting in the grace of God’s kingdom that was coming in the Christ.   

The Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders, they also came to John, but they didn’t come as the people came.  They came wanting to be baptized, but they didn’t come with repentance.  They didn’t see their need for it.  They came wanting to do something to prepare themselves, they sought works of preparation they could do.  They vainly thought that having Abraham as their father guaranteed them life in God’s kingdom.  They thought since they hadn’t committed any gross sin they were free from God’s wrath.  But they weren’t.  “Even now” said John “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” (Mt 3:10).  These religious leaders didn’t bear the good fruit of repentance, they didn’t bear the fruit of faith that trusted in the coming Messiah.  And neither do we.

B.    We’re very much like the Pharisees and Sadducees.  We look for ways to prepare ourselves.  All of us right now are doing things to get ready for Christmas.  We’re sending out cards, we’re making menus and buying the ingredients for family feasts; we’re decorating our homes and and wrapping presents.  In all of this we think we’re getting ready for Christmas, but are we?  Is Christmas about the gifts we give and receive, or is it about receiving the gift of salvation that God has given us in Christ? 

We do the same thing as we prepare for Christ’s second coming.  We look for the things that we can do.  We get ourselves ready by doing the good works that are expected of us.  Like the Pharisees, we keep God’s commands outwardly.  We haven’t murdered, our stolen.  We honor our parents most of the time by doing what they say.  We even go beyond these commands and do the extra good works by helping out the man on the street corner or sending a check to schools in Africa.  In all of this we think we’re getting ready for Jesus’ return.  But are we? 

Take a moment and answer this question, “Are you prepared for Jesus to come back tonight...and if so, why?” ....  I’ve heard this question and similar ones asked many times and often the response is “Yes, I think so… I’ve lived a pretty good life.”  But this response shows that person isn’t ready, because they’re looking at what they’ve done, just like the Pharisees and Sadducees.  This response isn’t the fruit of repentance and faith.  Instead of a trust in Christ’s saving death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, this is a trust in our own works of preparation.  But all these works fail, because nothing we do is good enough for salvation.  We can’t make ourselves ready because all that we do is tainted with our sin.  God is the only one who prepares us for Jesus’ coming, and He does this through His Word, through the work of the Holy Spirit.

II.A.    This is how the people were prepared when John the Baptist announced Jesus’ coming.  These men, women, and children heard John proclaim God’s Law and Gospel, and through it God worked repentance in them.  Repentance isn’t something we do, it wasn’t something these people did.  Repentance is worked by the Holy Spirit.  He turned the people away from their sin.  He converted them from unbelief to belief.  He gave them faith in the coming Savior that John announced. 

God’s Word isn’t just informative, giving us information, speaking the commands and promises of God.  It’s also performative...it does what God says it’ll do.  It brings about faith through the work of the Spirit.  When John the Baptist proclaimed, “Repent,” that’s what the Spirit was doing.  He was turning the people away from their sin and turning them toward their Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).  And this is exactly how the Lord prepares you for Christ. 

B.    He turns you away from your sin.  He converts you from unbelief to belief.  John the Baptist promised that our Lord would baptize us with the Holy Spirit (Mt 3:11).  God pours His Spirit upon you with His Word and Sacraments.  This is a continual pouring, it never stops.  Every time you read God’s Word, every time you hear it proclaimed, the Holy Spirit is there working faith in you, bringing you to repentance.  In the waters of baptism, He brings you into God’s family, into His kingdom of grace and mercy.  When you eat and drink Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit strengthens you in your faith.  In all of this, God prepares you, He makes you ready for Christ, to receive the forgiveness and everlasting life that He won for you on the cross.  And He keeps you in the certain hope of these gifts.  

God’s Word was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Rm 15:4).  God continually speaks to you through His written Word and in this speaking, He keeps you prepared for Christ’s coming.  The Spirit gives you hope in this.  This hope isn’t wishful thinking, like how we hope to get everything on our Christmas list.  No, this hope is a certain and sure hope.  This hope holds on to the promises of God, knowing that He’ll fulfill them.  This hope looks forward to Jesus’ coming, knowing that you’re prepared for it because God has prepared you for it through the continual pouring out of the Spirit in His Word and Sacraments. 

During Advent we run around preparing ourselves for Christmas Day.  We get ready for the celebration of Christ’s birth.  But as we do, we must remember, there’s nothing we can do to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ coming.  We must be prepared by the Spirit.  We must be made ready by God’s Word and receiving His Sacraments.  The Holy Spirit brings us to repentance and faith.  He works in us, turning us toward our Savior, and in this we live the life of faith, we bear fruits of repentance, and we trust in Christ alone for salvation with the certain hope of His return.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 

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