Sunday, December 21, 2008

Advent 4 Sermon

Advent 4 – Dec 21st, 2008 – John 1:19-28

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
This morning, we conclude our Advent preparations for Christmas. We have seen how Jesus how Jesus comes into this world humbly, born of a Virgin, for our sake. We have seen how Christ comes to bring Hope, to take our eyes off the falseness of the world and place it squarely upon Himself. We have seen that Christ comes to bring healing, to bind up the wounds of our sin and to give us life. And now, we are approaching the end of Advent. How do we respond? Knowing that Christ comes in humility, knowing that He brings hope and healing, what is our reaction? To know this, we need look simply to the preaching of John the Baptist. John is the forerunner of Christ, John preaches what people needed to hear, and still need – so let us ponder John’s preaching today.

When we see John in this morning’s Gospel, he is being questioned by the good folk of Jerusalem, the hoity-toity. John’s been out in the wilderness preaching and causing a stir. John is getting things riled up – things arne’t going smoothly. We can’t have that, so the Jerusalem folk send people out – who are you John, that you are stirring up the people so? And again, John is difficult. They come asking John who he is, and he doesn’t tell them at first. Oh, he gives answers – but he just tells them who he isn’t. John says – I’m not the Christ, I’m not Elijah, I’m not the prophet. It’s not about me – don’t try to make it about me. Finally, they keep pressing and annoying him, so John finally gives an answer. I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said. It’s a strange answer. It’s not a very bold answer. The Jews are expecting some credentials, some proof that he should be out there, some mighty title. John doesn’t give one. Nope, I’m just a voice, pointing to the One who is to come.

John is humble. John doesn’t puff himself up. He could have. Isaiah never made a direct prophesy about any of us – but John doesn’t. Eh, I’m just a voice. Jesus said in last week’s Gospel that of all the people born of women, you can’t find one greater than John. But he’s still humble. This is because John recognizes what His job is – He is to prepare people for the coming of Christ – His job is to point others to Christ and to make them ready for Him to come. And how is this done? John preached and John baptized.

When we think of John’s preaching, when we think of John’s baptizing, what is the one word that should come to the fore, that should dominate what we think of when we think of John? That word is “repent”. In Matthew’s Gospel, the first thing we hear John say is, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Luke tells us that John was “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” When we see John, when we hear of things about John, we must think about repentance. The Gospel lesson today expects you to make this connection – John’s preaching to prepare people is all about repentance.

I don’t know if repentance is all that popular of an idea today. In fact, what does it mean to repent? To repent means to turn away from something, to change your mind about something. Now the world has sort of a watered down version of repentance – just change what you are doing a bit – find something that you aren’t doing well and work on it a bit – sort of like a moral tune up. Maybe go buy a self-help book or make a New Years’ resolution. We all know how well those tend to work out. But is that all there is to repentance? Is repentance simply my attempt to change what I am doing? No, once again Satan and the world toss back to us a watered down form of repentance. The goal of repentance isn’t making your life run smoother or giving you your best life now. Rather this – repentance is about being honest and turning away from sin.

You cannot talk about repentance without coming face to face with the nasty, hairy reality of sin. We want to skip this step and just turn to something positive, just think happy thoughts. That’s not repentance, that’s just deluding yourself. No – to repent means to take the good long hard look in the mirror and see your sin for what it is – vile and nasty and mean. We all have them – those nasty sins that keep popping up, that keep tempting us, that keep calling out to us over and over again, and that we end up giving into again and again and again. And normally we like to pretend this doesn’t happen – or minimize our sin. Eh, it’s not that bad – I’m a pretty good person. I just need a little tune up. Not gonna fly today, not with John here. He’s preaching repentance. Repent. Take a good, long, hard look at yourself and your sin, and see it for what it is – nasty and vile. Don’t play pretend, admit your sin, and admit that it is horrid, admit like Paul says that you are the chief of sinners – and flee from it, ask God for help in fleeing. In order to repent, in order to turn away, you have to know what you are turning away from, and that means you have to admit your sin. You need to admit that you need a complete overhaul. That’s what repentance is.

And it’s never a popular thing, not really. I don’t like taking these hard looks at myself – I’m sure you don’t either. The folks in Jerusalem didn’t like John calling out repentance in His day either – that’s why they question him, try to silence him. But John will have none of it. I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. John can’t have any of it – for John knows that Christ is coming – and people have to be made ready – they need to be made ready by repentance.

We’ve spent weeks upon weeks getting stuff ready for Christmas. Lists have been made, travel plans, probably a lot has been done, probably more is left to be done. But how many of our plans for Christmas have included repentance? How many of us have said that in the middle of all the rushing around that we do, in the middle of all the parties and celebration, we should take time to repent? How often in the middle of all our Christmas stuff have we not even noticed Christ. John brings out a simple and blunt truth. If you do not repent – if you don’t know your own sin, if you don’t see how horrid it is – you’ll never be ready for Christmas. Not really. You might be ready for parties and dinners. You might be ready to unwrap presents. Unless you repent you won’t be ready for Christmas. You’ll not understand it. Unless you know your own sin, you’ll never understand the Christ child who comes to redeem you from that sin.

That’s why the world’s celebration of Christmas fades away so quickly. That’s why all this good cheer and joy we see will be gone by January, why things will just go back to the hum-drum way they normally are. The world doesn’t get repentance, and so it is never truly prepared for Christmas. Without repentance, you don’t realize that you need Christmas, and not in terms of needing a break, needing socks or a new drill or that wonderful toy or whatever it is that you’ll open on the 25th. Without repentance you don’t realize that you need a Savior – and so the coming the Savior just passes by.

We are called to repentance once again, dear friends, called to forgo the ways of the world and remember who we are as Christians. We are sinners in a sinful world – we are sinners who repent and turn our eyes in humility towards God, seeking His mercy. And when we look out this Christmas, when we look to the manger not with jaded eyes, but with eyes of repentance, we will see something more astonishing than the glitter of the world could ever show us. We will see that God turns His face towards us and grants us His favor, even though we have done nothing, nothing to deserve it. We will see God Almighty coming down to have mercy upon us, coming down to share in our woes, and not only share in them, but be the cure to them. We will behold the lengths to which God will go to redeem us.

And we only will see if it we understand that we are sinners. If you don’t know that you are a sinner, you won’t know that you need a savior. If you think that you aren’t really that big of a sinner, you won’t need that big of a savior, and your joy, your “Christmas Spirit” will be gone before the Christmas dinner leftover are. But God with His Word keeps us from this. His Word constantly calls us to repentance – when we gather here we begin our worship with repentance, confessing our sins – so that we at all times see the wondrous love our Savior has for us. We confess our sins, and marvel at the fact that God would die for us. We confess our sins, and marvel that God would come to us, give us His own Body and Blood under bread and wine – think about that – God gives us His very own Body and Blood – that holiness and righteousness is given to us here – that’s what’ we are going to get in just a few minutes. This is the wonder we see on Christmas – this is the wonder we see whenever we are called to God’s house for the Supper – or as it used to be called. . . mass. . . like “Christ-mass”. God prepares us for His coming to us and for us through repentance, and having repented and confessed our sins, we receive from God forgiveness and joy that goes beyond anything we see in this world, a joy that lasts and lasts. God grant that we never abandon repentance, but always are prepared for His coming to us for the forgiveness of our sins. Amen.

1 comment:

drjmarkh said...

Excellent sermon. Sorry I just found it. Thanks for sharing it. I truly enjoyed it and you are so right.
Mark Hollingsworth