+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 1:4
Theme: The Value of Forgiveness
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God is never emptied of His capacity to love. The same is not true for human beings. The devil always aims to systematically deconstruct human capability to receive, assimilate, and communicate God’s love and truth. Few things have suffered greater loss of value in this age than the forgiveness of sins. Not that its intrinsic value could ever be lost. Forgiveness is the divine pardon of the Almighty God expressed in the sacrifice of His only-begotten Son.
Yet the human grasp and appreciation of it is another matter. It is, perhaps, a sign of the times. We have witnessed- not unlike other times throughout history- a loss in the sacredness of marriage, a decline in belief in the sanctity of life, and a general deterioration in respect for the aged. A decreased reverence for God goes without saying. In our society unfaithfulness in marriage is commonplace, abortion and euthanasia are condoned even by Christian groups, and the young are indulged to almost the full extent of the resources available. What does this have to do with the forgiveness of sins?
On this Second Sunday of Advent we are confronted with the figure of John the Baptist. What did John preach? The Scripture says his aim was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”1 Here the Holy Spirit speaks; calling and gathering His church. The life of the Old Adam must be forsaken. The first paradise is not recoverable by any means we have at our disposal. Human society will never evolve into a Utopia. The temptation to find our ultimate purpose and meaning in earthly endeavors must be resisted at every level. Why is the forgiveness of sins undervalued? Why is God’s truth forsaken? Why do places of worship stand empty? Because so many believe that ultimate meaning and purpose must be achieved in this temporal sphere.
John the Baptist issues a timeless message. St. Peter emphasizes the point too, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”2 Until the Spirit brings a person to a recognition of his or her spiritual depravity- that is, an understanding of who they really are before God- Jesus is nothing more than an historical figure. That is, it’s simple enough to know the historical facts about the man Jesus; even knowing in detail the account of His suffering, death and resurrection. But Christ is not known as Saviour until the self is known as sinner.
Dear friends, the fact of Christ’s glorious return is always a word of law to the unbelieving. It is a word of warning that judgment against sin is coming and no one is exempt. For Christians it is a message of both law and gospel. Christ will judge all; but for believers the punishment has already been rendered at the crucifixion. The warning then, drives us anew to yearn for the Saviour’s forgiveness. The apostle encourages believers to practice self-control as evidence they are serious about Christ’s promise3.
Self-control is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It’s not highly cherished these days. It seems much easier to give in and give up. Yet to engage the struggle indicates an active faith. There was little boy with a bad temper, His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Then it gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say I'm sorry, the wound is still there.”
How do we deal with those wounds? The ones we inflict and the ones inflicted upon us? Addressing that issue is exactly what the life-long struggle of living the Christian faith is all about. Christ bears the nail wounds of anger and anarchy for all humanity. Only He holds the power and promise of a new creation. He died, driven to His demise by the necessity of reconciling sinners. Only a few nails were driven into the cross, but held there was the sacrifice that underpins the stability of all creation. In His resurrection we find that our wounds can be healed, that we can be freed from the past.
We are not imprisoned by the confusion and chaos of this world that desperately seeks to legitimize its own pursuits. What else can inspire and bolster your resolve to lend aid to those in need in your life- those trapped in cycles of darkness, addiction, selfishness, callousness, and despair- than the promise that the forgiveness of sins really does reconcile and restore? What else than the hope we have in Him who was crucified can motivate us to have genuine concern for others?
Some vegetables will yield better when they become stressed at a certain stage of development. It causes them to establish deeper and stronger roots. The same happens to the Christian. When we are deprived of selfish interests; when we begin to lose hope in our own ability to find meaning in life; then we reach deeper for the support of God. When such trial confronts us that we cry out from deep in the heart that life is not fair; then our autonomy is exposed for the myth that it is. The believer then establishes roots in the very bedrock of Christ’s compassion, love and truth. Only then can we begin to understand our purpose and bear fruit in His kingdom.
We cannot dictate the events of history. We don’t even live on our own. Christ lives. We live off His unmerited to mercy. And when this mortal life is ended we are either found in Christ or we are lost for eternity. Maybe there is nothing the modern spirit needs more than a liberal dose of humility. When Abraham was pleading with God to spare Sodom he expressed his unworthiness to do so by saying, “I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes.”4 And yet God uses us- frail vessels that we are- to be salt and leaven in this world. What greater privilege is there than to be an agent of Christ? To be a herald of the One who comes in compassion?
God is never lacking in His capacity to forgive. At the resurrection of the dead that forgiveness will be the basis of a new and eternal relationship with Him. We have a preview of it even now. We are baptized citizens of His kingdom. We dine at His table on the body and blood of Him who gives life. We share the hope of St. Peter who says, “We are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends…make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.”5 Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday of Advent
4 December 2011
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Mark 1:4
2 2 Peter 3:9
3 See 1 Thessalonians 5:7-8
4 Genesis 18:27
5 2 Peter 3:13-25