Monday, December 10, 2012

Sermon for Advent 2: "An Unexpected Party Crasher"

+ 2nd Sunday in Advent – December 9th, 2012 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series C: Malachi 3:1-7; Philippians 1:2-11; Luke 3:1-14

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
           Are you ready? Prepared? Cards sent out? Shopping done? House decorated? Cookies baked? Parties planned? Made a list and checked it twice? Only 16 days till Christmas. Oh, there’s so much to prepare for.
           And then John the Baptizer has the nerve to show up uninvited, and throw a steaming pile of coal on all our Christmas planning, roasting chestnuts on the judgment fire and leveling our mountains of pride and telling us to prepare. Prepare? John, can’t you see that’s what I’m doing?
           But John doesn’t seem to give a camel’s behind about our preparations: the cookies, lights or holiday cheer. He’s got a message to deliver: Prepare the way of the Lord.
           Who do you think you are, John, telling me to prepare and repent?  To our Old sinful nature, John is the Christmas spirit Kryptonite, the Holiday humbug, the Grinch who stole our festive desires.

           This desert preacher minces no words – he calls his visitors a bunch of snakes (not very seeker sensitive is he?). Undomesticated, uncivilized, untamable. And unkempt, maybe even a bit smelly. John is cut from the same prophetic hide as Elijah, clothed in camel’s hair and leather. He stands in the wilderness with one foot firmly planted in each Testament; he’s the last prophetic voice of the Old covenant and the harbinger of the new covenant in the coming Christ. He’s the herald, the forerunner, the way-preparer, the messenger who goes before the Lord to fill in the valleys, level the mountains, straighten out the crooked and smooth over the rough.
           And so it came to pass that, “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, Herod’s brother Philip the tetrarch of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanius the tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of the Lord came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
           John the Baptizer may sound strange, but Luke wants you to know that he's no mythical character. These things didn’t happen “once upon a time” or “in a galaxy far, far away.”
           Luke gives us all the exhausting historical nitty-gritty: Places. Names. Dates. Who. When. Where. The events of Christianity are founded on fact, specific events at specific times. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection aren’t some abstract myth or philosophical idea, but historical events with evidence and eyewitnesses. This separates Christianity from every other world religion. Your faith is founded on fact, not fiction.
           Although, wouldn’t it be convenient for our old sinful nature if John was a mythical figure? At least then we could avoid him, dismiss his message and brand him a fanatic, a radical, a loon. We could finally get John the Baptizer out of those camel skins and into something more civilized, you know, maybe a red suit or a green hat with pointy ears – anything but those stinky old threads. Or better yet, rewrite history and repackage his message.
           “Come, John, leave your axe at the door, let the mountains and valleys be; rest your voice and your wilderness wearied body – you just need to be happy and relax, not repent - have some eggnog and sit by the fire. It’s much more comfortable this way.”
           But there’s the problem. That’s the whole reason John is crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord! He doesn’t want you to be chopped down and thrown into the fire. He doesn’t want you comfortable, sitting on your prideful mountaintop, dwelling in the valley of the shadow of death, crooked and twisted in sin.  For your salvation’s sake, John will not be silent. He’ll shout it from the Jordan all the way to prison, until he loses his head – even in death, he cries out: Prepare the way of the Lord.
           How do we prepare the way of the Lord? Californians, of all people, should understand John’s highway imagery. Fill in potholes. Move mountains. Straighten crooked paths and smooth out bumpy roads. Make a highway for the Lord.
           In other words: repent. Turn away from sin and self. Return to the Lord. You were going that way; now walk this way. Lose your self-righteousness and your pride and repent of all you have and haven’t done.
           Just as in John’s day, today, on the 9th day of the 12th month of 2012, the Word of the Lord comes to Redeemer. God sends the bulldozer of His law right down the main streets of our lives. The highway of the Lord runs right through the middle our hearts and minds. And that’s why John makes us so uncomfortable. He shows us the truth about ourselves, and we don’t like what we see. We’re sinful and unclean. Our thoughts, desires, actions – even the best and most noble of them – are hopelessly in need of a bath.
           You may not think it, but this is a gift. Repentance is God’s work in us. It’s good to be uncomfortable in our sin. To cry out with St. Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am; who will deliver me from this body of death?  Well, what’s your answer, John? Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
           Yes, John calls us out the wilderness to strip away all pride and pretence, to demolish everything that stands in our way before Christ’s coming – yes, even to die in the wilderness. But John doesn’t leave you for dead. He points you to living water in the desert. John’s baptism of repentance was completed and fulfilled the moment Jesus stepped into the Jordan to be baptized as a sinner, to stand with us and in our place. In the wilderness, you lose your sin and death but find the oasis of Christ’s Baptism, life, death and resurrection for you; you have a new life now: dying and rising.
           Repentance, therefore, isn’t a one-time thing. It’s a way of life. It’s what it means to be a Christian. Daily the old man drowns and dies in baptismal water; daily a new man rises up alive in Christ, clothed with His righteousness, covered with His holiness, living in His perfection.
           That’s the gift of your Baptism at work, the Spirit at work in you. Like repentance, it too is a daily gift. Daily God’s Word kills and makes alive, cleansed to live in our vocations serving God our neighbor.
           John warns you to flee from God’s wrath for your own good; head for the hills outside Jerusalem, to Jesus, to the cross. In Christ Crucified you will find shelter from the storm, a shield from divine judgment. For God’s wrath has fled from you onto Jesus. Behold the Lamb of God who walked the straight and narrow path, to the top of the mountain and was crucified, made low for you. He who knew no sin became crooked and twisted sin for you. He filled in the valley of the shadow of death with his own body: crucified, dead, buried and risen. Jesus is the highway to our Lord.
           For the axe that was laid to the root of Israel fell upon Jesus. The wrath of God that threatens our condemnation is poured out upon Jesus. The fire of God’s judgment against our sin came upon Jesus. Jesus is the good tree that bears the good fruit on behalf of all of humanity.
           You are grafted into Him in baptismal faith, joined to Jesus as branches to a living Vine; and feed off of His death and life. That means you too are a good tree. And good trees produce good fruit. Not hypothetical fruit. John gets specific. So should we.
           Have enough clothes? Share with someone who has none. Are you well fed? Feed someone who isn’t. Know any neighbors or friends without hope or comfort? Tell them Jesus died for their sins; invite them to church.
Go about your daily lives and vocations in honesty and integrity. Tax collectors – collect only the legal taxation. Soldiers – don’t use your authority to extort money; be content with your wages. In other words, fulfill your God-given callings with honesty, integrity and uprightness.
God’s work of repentance leads to forgiveness and forgiveness leads us to love the neighbor. Not works – but love, Christ’s love – motivates you to bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
And by the fruit of Christ’s death and resurrection you are prepared for his coming – at his incarnation. His second coming. Here in the Lord’s Supper.
The world couldn’t silence John the Baptizer’s voice. Will it silence yours this Advent season? Will the world’s Christmas plans and preparations overwhelm you as you prepare the way of the Lord? John beckons us to flee the wrath to come by looking to Jesus
And there’s no better place for all your holiday preparations than the Divine Service. No better way to prepare the way of the Lord than receiving the Lord’s Supper where he is preparing you for his Advent. Here, Isaiah’s prophecy continues to be fulfilled: all flesh shall see the salvation of our God.
For the Christian life is a lot like Advent – time spent waiting, preparing in repentant and joyful expectation of Christ’s coming, in the manger and in glory; and cradled in bread and wine, in the glory of His holy body and blood.
By pointing us to Christ’s second coming John is preparing us to celebrate Advent and Christmas aright.  While the world around us parties like there’s no tomorrow, we wait in hopeful expectation and joy because there is a tomorrow, an endless day.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

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