Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Advent 2 Sermon: "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Advent"

+ Advent 2 – December 7, 2014 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series B: Isaiah 40:1-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14; Mark 1:1-8

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

 Advent is about beginnings.

The church year begins anew.

Christ begins to prepare us for his advent by repentance, forgiveness, and joy. “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

John’s baptism points forward to Jesus’ greater baptism for you by water, word, and the Holy Spirit, the beginning of your new life in Christ.

Advent is about beginnings.

It’s the beginning of the end-times. The King has landed. His reign has begun.

It’s the beginning of Jesus’ journey to the cross. The road goes ever on and on, from Bethlehem to the Jordan River, through Galilee to Jerusalem.

And it’s the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So St. Mark begins his Gospel. Mark does not record the birth of Jesus; no angels or shepherds, no dreaming Joseph or pondering Mary, simply: the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In Mark’s Gospel, you won’t hear the proclamation “Son of God” spoken again until Jesus is on the cross. Jesus is most clearly the “Son of God” when he’s suffering and dying for you.

That’s the Gospel. Jesus crucified for you. Gospel means Good News. John’s advent good news is the coming Savior. Everything John says and does points to Jesus’ advent and our new beginning in him.

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
    who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight,’”

 St. Mark introduces us to John the Baptizer by quoting Isaiah. But Mark also quotes Exodus 23:20 as God prepares Israel’s way into the Promised Land and Malachi 3:1 where YHWH prepares Israel for his own coming.

What does that say about Jesus? Is he descendant of Abraham, Israel’s son? Or is he the Son of God, God almighty in human flesh come to save? Yes! Jesus is true God and true man. Jesus is the perfect substitute for Israel and for you; like you in all respects yet without sin.

 Remember, Jesus’ advent is about beginnings.

 And you always know it’s Advent when John the Baptizer shows up. John’s job description is simple: prepare the way of the Lord. Advent means preparation. Advent is about beginnings.

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Location is everything for John. The wilderness is his church; the Jordan River his pulpit. These locations are no accident. They mirror the message. The wilderness recalls Israel’s wandering. 40 years of waiting for the Promised Land. Wanting to find the home promised to them by YHWH. Testing. Sinning. Dying. That’s life in the wilderness. A wasteland.

But the wilderness isn’t just “out there” in the world. No, the wilderness is in each of us too. Like an arid, hot wind, our words and deeds scorch our fellow members, spouses, friends, and even people we don’t know. Our tongues are a raging wild fire against God and neighbor. Our inward thoughts are a sandstorm of sin, sticking to us like particles of sand; everything we say and do is gritty with our sin. We are quick to anger and slow to repent. We live as if God does not matter and as if we matter most of all. Our conscience is parched by death and stained with guilt. Repent. The Kingdom of God is near.

Like Israel, we’re looking forward to coming home but we know we’re not home yet. We’re in lonely exile.

John prepares the way. His preaching hits us like 80 grit sand paper: smooth the rough places of our arrogance and stubbornness of sin. John, the one man road crew, bull-dozes our mountains of pride and levels our hypocrisy. John is sent to make us uncomfortable in our sin and if you’re not, well that should make us all the more uncomfortable. For try as you might, you cannot live in the wilderness. Left on your own, you will surely die.

What you need is an oasis in the desert. In the wilderness you need the Jordan River, a new beginning.

The Jordan River, where Namaan washed 7 times and was cleansed of leprosy; where Joshua led Israel into the promised land; where Elijah’s cloak parted the waters. Jesus comes to the same river and parts enters the waters with a new Elijah. Jesus – the greater Joshua – opens the way to a greater promised land. Jesus stands in solidarity with sinners to soak up the leprosy of our sin, and give you a new beginning in Holy Baptism.

Jesus comes into our wilderness. Jesus joins us in our humanity – our human family - so that through and in Baptism you are joined to God’s family. He is born into the holy family so that you become part of the most holy of families, Christ’s bride, the Church. Jesus joins you in the wasteland in order to bring you home. Jesus is captive in our exile of sin in order to ransom, redeem, and rescue you.

Jesus goes into the wilderness and he comes back out again with you on his shoulders. Jesus overcame temptation. Jesus was tested and found faithful. Jesus did not sin. And he did this all for you. Jesus even dies for you, not in the wilderness of Judea, but the wasteland of Calvary. Jesus’ crucified is your oasis in the wilderness. His wounds and scars are your safe haven from the scorching heat of God’s wrath.

For you, Jesus was slow to anger and patient, not wanting us to perish. For you, Jesus lived and died because you mattered most of all to him. For you, Jesus was left alone, forsaken on the cross, so that you will not die. For you, Jesus sends John to prepare his way.

John prepares by preaching baptism; a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This was not yet the full baptism. That comes later when Jesus instituted Baptism after his resurrection. But it has all the right signs of the real thing. There’s repentance, water, washing and cleansing, and forgiveness of sins.

John’s baptism was good, but it wasn’t enough. He was not the Christ. He was only the beginning. Everything he said and did was to prepare the way of the Lord, even his clothing…

Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.

John reminds me a bit of Doc from Back to the Future – looks a little crazy, a bit off-putting at first, but it turns out he has something important to say. There’s more to John than meets the eye. The camel hair, locusts, and wild honey are clues that John is a second Elijah. When Elijah came again, so would the Messiah. John is the last of the prophets proclaiming that Jesus’ saving work was beginning.

 “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”

When John the Baptizer speaks, I can’t help but think of Wayne’s World: “We’re not worthy.” John gets it though: “I’m not worthy,” he says. “I am insufficient before the Lord.” This is the heart of Christianity. We must decrease. Jesus must increase. John’s words teach us that repentance is God’s work in us, not something we contrive. In repentance we echo John’s words: “I am not worthy. I am insufficient.”

This is why Jesus was born: to take our insufficiency upon himself; to make our unworthiness his own, and give you his worthiness in return. He birth and death are both in humility because that’s the kind of Savior he is. In his humility you are exalted. In Jesus’ death the unworthy are made worthy. Through Jesus’ cross you are made sufficient to stand before the Father today and on the Last Day.

Jesus is the stronger one, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Jesus is stronger than John, stronger than the devil, stronger than your sin, stronger than even death itself. Your strength rests – not in you- but in Jesus’ weakness and suffering for you. Just as your beginning is found in his death and resurrection for you.

Jesus’ advent is a new beginning for you. It all begins in Baptism.

I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Baptism is your beginning.

Holy Baptism is your entrance into the Promised Land. Holy Baptism is the Advent of the Triune God upon you, the Holy Spirit enters in. Holy Baptism washes you not just 7 times, but 7 x 70: you are cleansed of the leprosy of sin. Jesus leads you through the waters in a new exodus. Sin and death are drowned. Life in Christ washes over you. You are adopted, brought home. Your exile is over. The Lamb of God is your safe harbor. You have a clean conscience. A new, and pure heart. All of that wilderness dust is washed away. You are bathed in forgiveness. You are a new creation. A new birth from above. A new spirit. New life in Christ, this Advent, and at Jesus final advent.

Jesus’ Advent is about beginnings.

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

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