+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Theme: John’s Timeless Message
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
It doesn’t matter what the time or circumstance- promising harvest, difficult conditions, or uncertain outcomes- Advent comes. Advent comes and John the Baptist announces it. John appears as an eccentric and rugged figure. His diet and dress are unusual. Might we not still have a few locusts left to share with him! He was an undaunted and unwieldy character. And would he be viewed today as anything but a radical or misfit? The powers of the time soon had him beheaded. But he preached with power, and he preached the truth. People came to him. How seldom today do people rush to the preaching of biblical truth! The modern secular mind has little use for such obsolete piety. Nevertheless, the Holy Spirit draws and faith is kindled. The Word wiggles its way into confused hearts and navigates into skeptical minds. Seeds are planted and some take root.
John the Baptist comes announcing important news. It’s not the news of the day or even the news of the century. It is the news that will define human history. More than that, it is the news of the activity of God which determines eternity. He preaches a baptism of repentance. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”1 John comes to shake us out of our spiritual slumbers. He comes to challenge our self-righteousness, to engage us in assessing our outlook on life.
John comes with pointed and unequivocal words. He comes to convict. The preaching of the law can happen overtly, as when we are called into account for our sins: You shall not give false testimony; you shall not steal; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not covet, etc. Even wayward thoughts and intentions condemn us. Our unrighteousness is exposed, if not openly before others, certainly in our conscience before God. It’s no secret the Holy Spirit intends to use God’s law to drive us to repentance. Ultimately He wants people to see that apart from Christ they are idolaters. That’s exactly what John the Baptist was doing today.
But the preaching of the law can also happen with subtlety. It can even mask itself as a “positive” motivation towards piety. This happens easily and frequently when were are given the impression that if only we strive harder to act as Christians, then we will be more certain of God’s love. If our obedience increases, then we can be sure of God’s forgiveness. It’s even a common misunderstanding that the essence of Christianity is the message that Jesus shows us how to live a more morally upright life. The Bible says, “Love your neighbour as yourself,”2 and Jesus inspires us to do that. Yes, indeed, but not one person has, or ever will. Whenever we get the sense that we’re not living up to the standards and expectations that God would like, that is the work of the law, not the gospel. And alone it leads to a spiritual dead end. “The mere preaching of the law without Christ either produces presumptuous people, who believe that they can fulfill the law by external works, or drives man utterly to despair.”3
But what the law is powerless to accomplish in us the gospel graciously bestows. We need have no uncertainty about whether we can achieve or maintain God’s favour. Christ went to the cross, voluntarily, willingly; with great determination and under great duress. There He was sacrificed for the sins of the world. The child of Bethlehem could not remain in the manger as an object of adoration. He did not remain secluded in Nazareth as the hopes of the ages failed. Those who admired Him in the manger had yet to look upon the horrifying spectacle of the cross. The forgiveness He offers is complete, free, and unconditional.
The work of the gospel is never relegated to the past event of Jesus’ death on the cross. Anytime we are given the impression that God’s work is done and now it’s up to us to finish what God has started, then we’re being misled. You are baptized not into the Jesus who once walked the earth but now is gone; or the Jesus who you only hope will come; you are baptized into the crucified and living Saviour. He is the Advent Redeemer coming to you in forgiveness proclaimed into your ears and sacred food and drink placed on your lips. He comes and meets you in your darkness. He greets you in your loneliness. He cheers you in your sorrow. He comforts you in your uncertainty. And He works to dislodge the faulty foundations upon which your life is built. The strengthening and deepening of your faith involves a greater understanding of your dependence on God’s mercy.
Advent teaches us to not get ahead of ourselves; to not put our own plans, or even accomplishments before those of God. During the 1978 fireman's strike in England, the British army took over emergency firefighting. On January 14 they were called out by an elderly lady in South London to retrieve her cat. They arrived with impressive haste, very cleverly and carefully rescued the cat, and started to drive away. But the lady was so grateful she invited the squad of heroes in for tea. Driving off later with fond farewells and warm waving of arms, they ran over the cat and killed it. Self-satisfaction can be a powerful and dangerous distraction. Let us not be so absorbed in congratulating ourselves for our piety or our worldly accomplishments that we destroy not only our own humility, but the very work of God we are to be about. But let us have courage, confidence, and hope that our “labour in the Lord is not in vain.”4
Advent is not only about the coming of Jesus in glory, but Jesus as the “Coming One.” He breaches time and space to redeem fallen creation. He gives us immediate access to His grace and forgiveness. In Advent we are reminded that God will finish what He begins. From cradle to grave, from faith’s creation to its completion at death, God is the author and finisher5. We confess as Luther did, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ , my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.”6
“May the God hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”7 Amen.
+ in nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday of Advent
5 December 2010
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Matthew 3:2
2 Matthew 19:19
3 Tappert, SD 559, 9
4 1 Corinthians 15:58
5 See Hebrews 12:2
6 Luther’s Small Catechism
7 Romans 15:13