+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 3:10-14
Theme: Advent Opportunities
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
God never squanders opportunities. He never relies on guesswork. Everything He does is always purposeful in Christ. Today John the Baptist continues his preaching of repentance. His message is urgent. “The ax is already at the root of the trees”1preparing to cut them down. The crowds are stirred up. They begin to query him. What does his preaching mean? How does one prepare for the coming Christ? He answers their questions to very practical effect. Faith shows itself in deeds.
Here John shows great skill in His ability to convey God’s truth. He is an expert surgeon. He sharpens the knife- the double-edged sword of God’s word- and begins to make curative incisions. Each individual’s sin has particular tendencies. This often relates to the opportunities that lay before us. He warns the tax-collectors to not take advantage of their position by over-charging even though it was something they could get away with legally. He warns the soldiers not to use their power to coerce citizens. He is most severe with the Pharisees who were abusing their spiritual influence. All were myopic and required the mirror of God’s law to see their faults.
The implications for us are transparent. In our vocations each of us has unique opportunities. Those opportunities can be selfishly used to gain some advantage over others. Those opportunities can be ignored. Or they can be used to seek the well-being of the neighbour. Repentance has tangible manifestations. It has concrete expressions. Because the heart has been acted upon daily attitudes and activities are transformed. We are not Platonists, aspiring to idealistic values but showing no evidence in our lives.
This is a reflection of the life-giving presence of Christ among us. The birth of Jesus Christ wasn’t a virtual reality. It isn’t a cleverly devised legend now accompanied by impressive computer-generated images. It’s not archived in some dusty Bible or electronic depository and retrieved each year to give our Christmas celebrations some focus. He stood among us in flesh and blood- God incarnate! He healed the sick, calmed the waves, gave sight to the blind and raised the dead. We have an unbroken succession of witnesses to His name. His sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection finally alters reality. Death’s power has a use-by date. Death will become obsolete! The resurrection awaits us. That is the hope of advent.
We can now live as reflections of that truth. But as John warns that doesn’t give us license to exploit others or expect God will cater to our every whim. Christianity doesn’t make our lives more comfortable. It gives them ultimate purpose. So we must learn to identify and contest the modern tendency to think that people of faith receive special accommodation from God. It’s a misunderstanding to believe Christians should receive some kind of ‘exemption’ from trials.
Many like to think that their difficulties are exceptional. Here Satan plants a very arrogant lie in our hearts. We think we are worthy of special notice, special attention, special sympathy because our plight is somehow more severe than that of others. God should attend to us first! But do you think you are the first person ever to struggle? Is Job your peer? Have you broken new ground?
Dear friends, many people can sympathize with our struggles. Others have been through the hard knocks of life too. Showing compassion is something Christians should learn to excel at. A fewer number can empathize because they have faced something similar. They can relate. But only one-only Christ- can fully understand the depth and range of human hardship, temptation and sorrow. Only Christ, the infant of Bethlehem, the scapegoat on Calvary, and the victor over death’s power was an irrefutably obedient human being. We possess Adam’s nature in its fallen state. Christ is the New Adam who restores human nature to its original excellence.
So to say that Christ knows you- especially your flaws, and failings- is something much more than claiming He possesses complete information about you. Even a comprehensive accounting of all the events of your life is not what we mean. Christ lived for you. He endured the best Satan could throw at Him. He suffered the harrowing pains of separation from God the Father- a profound anguish that no believer will ever experience. No one can ‘prove’ that to you by any means that are acceptable to human logic. The Holy Spirit teaches it by faith. He says, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”2 And again, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”3
Christ understands your mortality. He understands all the vulnerabilities of your humanity because you were baptized into His death and resurrection. You inherited your sinful nature from Adam but you are gifted with true righteousness from Christ. Baptismal water is more powerful than Adam’s blood. Jesus promises you a much different inheritance.
One of the great mysteries of Christianity is this: Christ was resolved to leave heaven to live with sinners. This was previewed in the circumstances of His birth. How many nobles and high officials were at the manger? The wisemen came later to the house. The heavenly hosts announced the Messiah’s birth but the shepherds were hardly ambassadors of society’s elite. No representative from the temple was present. No high priest. No Pharisee or Sadducee.
Christ dwells only with sinners who understand themselves as such. He left the company of angelic beings to associate with sinful mortals. We can scarcely appreciate what a profound miracle that is. If you are seeking miracles look no further than the stable. Look no further than the cross. If you want to participate in this greatest of mysteries then come to Holy Communion. The infant cradled in Bethlehem has been crowned King in the heavenly Jerusalem. Yet even now He dwells with you through His word and Spirit.
The apostle Paul comforts the faithful with these familiar words today, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”4 What does it mean to have your heart and mind guarded by the peace of God? Is it not the assurance that though the world would hurl all its fury at you, you nevertheless stand in the righteousness of Christ- still holy and blameless! His promises are not new. The prophet said, “The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.”5 He misses no opportunity. Rejoice all you who languish in darkness, Immanuel has come to you. Come, Lord Jesus, Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Third Sunday of Advent
16 December 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 3:9
2 Hebrews 12:4
3 1 Corinthians 10:13
4 Philippians 4:7
5 Zephaniah 3:17