The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Second Sunday in Advent, 05 December 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
In those days John the Baptizer came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.' "
“This is he,” our narrator, St. Matthew, writes. This is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah. This is the one crying in the wilderness. And what does our wilderness prophet cry? "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Repent. That is how one best 'Prepare[s] the way of the Lord; [and] make[s] His paths straight.'
Repent. An odd word for a world that rarely thinks repentance is necessary. Of course people should repent of the really bad things—child abuse, murder, rape, genocide, and the like. Meanwhile sins against the commandments of God are downplayed. Everyone’s doing it. It’s not wrong. And if it’s not wrong, who needs to repent? So sin abounds: forgetting to remember the Lord’s Day, disobeying father and mother, saying harsh words, committing adultery or that so-called “old-fashioned” sin of fornication, lying, stealing, and coveting.
And the logic of the world goes like this. If I deny the existence of Adam and Eve, there’s no such thing as original sin. If I deny that the thoughts, words, and deeds I think, say, and do aren’t bad, there’s no actual sin. If there’s no sin, there’s no need for repentance. If there’s no sin, there’s no need for a Savior from sin.
We often wonder why the world doesn’t see Jesus as we do. The world doesn’t see the point in confession of sin or of Jesus’ cross because they have no need of Him! They don’t think they’re sinners! Something has to fill the void of the lack of Jesus, so other characters show up at Christmas and Easter. The world celebrates Jesus’ birthday, but forgets to invite Him. The world marks the day of His Resurrection by publicly doubting that it ever took place, while looking nice in their new dresses and ties.
There is nothing wrong with gift giving, so long as we realize that Jesus is the first and greatest Christmas gift, because He dealt with our curse of sin. There is nothing wrong with Easter eggs or bunnies and the new life of which they remind us, so long as we remember and live the new life only the resurrected Christ can give.
Let us repent of our own worldly attitudes and desires. Let us do what the Greek word says and make a 180-degree change. This is something only the Lord can bring about through His Word and Holy Spirit. Repentant sinners receive forgiveness. That’s good news.
John the Baptizer provides motivation for repentance. In our text this Second Sunday in Advent, John preaches, “Repent AND.” Listen for the “And” of each part of the text.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Instead of worldly desires, attitudes, thoughts, and deeds, John calls upon you to think of the kingdom of heaven. He calls upon all of His hearers to prepare the way of the Lord in their own hearts and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, make his paths straight in their lives. Repentant sinners are part of the kingdom of heaven.
But who is this fellow, this John who does the baptizing? St. Luke fills us in back in Luke 1:57-80. Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, "No; he shall be called John." And they said to her, "None of your relatives is called by this name." And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, "What then will this child be?" For the hand of the Lord was with him.
"What then will this child be?" For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.' " This is the one preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." The hand of the Lord is still with him. And this is John who we sing about in what is called the Benedictus, a canticle, or song right out of the Bible. That is the canticle for Advent and Lent for Matins, as we sang it last Sunday and will again next Sunday.
And [John’s] father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."
Salvation. Mercy. Holiness. Righteousness. Forgiveness of sins. The Way of Peace. These are gifts given to the repentant. In our Gospel reading, we see the Benedictus song fulfilled.
And the child [John] grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Just listen to how he looked on the day of his public appearance. This is no red carpet attire!
Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
John’s is a perfect wardrobe and diet for repentance. These are the next things John connects to repentance. Repent and… No fancy suit. This clothing is from the same line as Old Testament sackcloth and ashes. Repent and… No gourmet food here—just basic sustenance.
And the people heeding John’s call to repent, what “and” do they teach us by their example? Repent and Confess. To confess is to same-say, to say the same thing as someone else. The Lord calls all to repentance because all are sinners. John therefore calls all to repentance because all are sinners. Pastors today are given the same word. Repent and Confess. Repentant sinners receive forgiveness. That’s Gospel for you. Repent and confess at the beginning of Divine Service. Repent and confess daily to the Lord, living in Holy Baptism. Repent and confess your sins against one another and forgive one another. Repent and confess privately with your pastor for the sake of absolution.
And confessing their sins, what happened next? Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. Repent and Be Baptized. This is not completely unlike Peter’s preaching on Pentecost: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This fulfills what John would soon prophesy in our text today: “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
The Baptism the Lord called John to administer was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Lutherans would call that a means of grace. The Baptism of John gave birth to faith and forgave sins. Jesus would later receive this baptism, as we will hear again in January. Only later would Jesus institute making disciples by means of teaching and baptizing In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of John has much in common with our Holy Baptism, yet the outpouring of the Holy Spirit had to wait until Pentecost.
But when John saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,' for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 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.
Some came out to see this one crying in the wilderness. Even years later they would be reluctant to admit that John was sent from God. Self-righteousness is not just a problem for the Pharisees. We fall into that trap, too. How many times at prayer do you just go through the motions, not thinking about specifics when you pray, “Forgive us our trespasses…” Self-righteousness has given rise to many misunderstandings about Christianity, from the rise of cult groups to people simply thinking that all Christians are hypocrites. Let us repent and stamp out hypocrisy one Christian at a time. Repent and actually be serious about it.
Yes, even you need to repent. Left to themselves, unconfessed sins are ticking time bombs, just waiting to go off. Secrets can be destructive, no matter how long they've been buried, as residents of a Ukraine village found out. The Associated Press reported their story this way: For 43 years Zinaida Bragantsova had been telling people there was a World War II bomb buried under her bed.
The story began in 1941 when the Germans advanced toward the Ukrainian city of Berdyansk. One night at the very start of the war, she was sitting by the window and sewing on her machine. Suddenly a noise was heard and a whistling close by. She got up and in the following moment was struck by a blast of wind. When she came to, the sewing machine was gone and there was a hole in the floor as well as in the ceiling.
Zinaida couldn't get any officials to check out her story, so she just moved her bed over the hole and lived with it—for the next 40 years. Finally, the woman's problem was uncovered. As phone cable was being laid in the area, demolition experts were called in to probe for buried explosives. "Where's your bomb, grandma?" asked the smiling army lieutenant sent to talk to Mrs. Bragantsova. "No doubt, under your bed?"
"Under my bed," Mrs. Bragantsova answered dryly.
And sure enough, there they found a 500-pound bomb. After evacuating 2,000 people from surrounding buildings, the bomb squad detonated the bomb. According to the report, "The grandmother, freed of her bomb, will soon receive a new apartment."
Many people live like that grandmother, with a bomb under the bed—a terrible secret, a great hurt, [a hidden sin,] a seething anger that lays there for years while everyone goes on about their business. No one is safe until it's removed. [And it’s not just the Pharisees and Sadducees to whom John is preaching. Listen as John continues…]
Citation: Lee Eclov, Lake Forest, Illinois; from Associated Press (November 1984)
"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 with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
“He who is coming after me.” That’s Jesus he’s talking about. Repent and Jesus. John speaks of Jesus as the one who gives the Holy Spirit. John also speaks of Jesus as the one who will bring Judgment.
Like Isaiah, John’s perspective is also a lot like lined-up telephone poles. He was about six months older than Christ. As the forerunner of the Messiah, John looked forward to Jesus’ preaching and work and the Day of the Lord, Judgment Day. What looked like one telephone pole to him, one event, the time of the Messiah combined with the Judgment, is actually two from our perspective. We are further down the road and around a bend. The time of the Messiah, Jesus is seen more clearly, from our perspective along the road, divided into Jesus’ first advent, and then the time of the church. Then, we, like Isaiah and John, can see the Last Day, or Jesus’ second advent.
Repent And. Repent because of your sin. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Wear repentance like a camelhair clothing. Make repentance daily like the daily bread the Lord gives. Confess your sins. Be baptized if you have not yet received Christian baptism, and live daily in contrition and repentance by the working of the Holy Spirit within you.
Repentance is a good thing. It’s good for the soul. You acknowledge that you haven’t kept God’s law and that you want to do better. The Gospel of the text is “the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” The kingdom is near in Jesus. The kingdom is near to those who repent. You, dear repentant Christians, are part of the kingdom because of your baptism into Christ. Repent and Jesus. It’s just that simple. Jesus is the kingdom. Jesus is forgiveness in the flesh.
Jesus has baptized His Christians with the Holy Spirit. And fire comes, too. Fire refines. Fire tests. Fire purifies. And because of Repentance, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the fire of tribulations you face, you are ready for when Jesus comes again with His winnowing fork is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. And because you have withstood the fires of this life by faith, with Jesus at your side, you have no need to fear the unquenchable fire of hell.
Therefore, live the life of the baptized. After all, baptismal life is nothing else than daily sorrow for sin and repentance, walking alongside Jesus by His Word and Spirit. We repent and receive God’s gifts in Word and Sacrament. The baptized repent and busy themselves with the Lord’s work not because they “have to,” but because that’s who they are in Christ. Repentant sinners receive forgiveness. That’s good news.
And the baptized repent and watch, because in the days of Noah the flood came suddenly and no one but the eight heard and heeded the Lord’s warning. Many today ignore or scoff at the warning of the Word. We repent daily because we sin daily. We watch daily because Jesus could come at any time. That is our hope.
And we repent and pray, trusting in the Lord’s goodness and mercy, especially that He would even send His Son to earth in the first place. And, that He loves us enough to give us gifts to keep us faithful in the time being, and to send Him a second time to take us home. Repentant sinners receive forgiveness. Repent and trust in Jesus. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.