+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 3:1-6
Theme: Real People in Real Time
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The promises of God are not metaphorical. He addresses real people in real time with real truth. The entrance of Jesus into human life illustrates God’s embrace of the world. The historical particulars Luke records are significant. The coming of God’s Son into the world was set in a specific context. The regularities of everyday life did not cease. Roman-controlled Palestine was a thoroughfare for culture and trade. Long sandwiched between perennial powers to its north and south, already by the time of Jesus it had a long history of important events. What was about to happen would change the course of the world.
John is the key figure of advent. John the Baptist was a cousin of Jesus; six months His elder. Though cut from the mold of the prophets his position was unique. He straddled the covenants. The old eon was coming to a close and the new age was about to commence. His message was clear. His conviction was resolute. The Lamb of God was beginning His journey to ground zero. The altar of the cross awaited Him. John’s entire ministry was in preparation for these events. He had no other purpose than to point the way to the Messiah.
The description of his ministry is modest. “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”1The message remains timeless. Repentance is the key theme. The Scriptures say much about repentance and it’s beneficial to be continually catechized on the topic. What is repentance?
Repentance is not a way to appease God. The wrath of God was appeased by the death of Christ. Repentance is evidence that we are convicted of our sins. The humbled heart recognizes its need for pardon. Repentance is not the basis on which God forgives us. Forgiveness is grounded only in the sacrificial death of Christ as the atonement for our sins. Repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot accept the reality of our own condemnation without the Holy Spirit softening our hearts.
Today the prophet Malachi prophesied about the ministry of John the Baptist. He speaks of the work of refining, cleansing the soul. He talks of offerings made to the Lord that are truly righteous. The fruit of repentance involves a purified motive of the heart. From that motive we seek to do God’s will. Therefore the apostle says, “I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act if worship.”2
We know, then, that we are to cease and desist from giving into those particular temptations that allure us. Yet it happens again, and again, and again. We keep returning to our sins. We savor that bit of gossip and it’s just too juicy not to share. The Eighth Commandment is a mere shadow at the back of our minds. We harbor bitterness in our hearts, forgetting that hatred in our hearts is murder and breaking the Fifth Commandment. And so it goes with all the commandments. God’s law convicts us with clarity. We are told to forgive others. If you have never struggled to forgive someone then you are in rare company. For Christians, in fact, the claim of finding forgiveness easy is an inconsistency. Believers understand the value of reconciliation. We know that Christ sacrificed His own life to restore us to God. We know it came at a price.
So how does our life before God come to resolution? We would really like to write it off as an academic exercise, a foregone conclusion. We’d like to tick the box and be done with the power and poison of sin once and for all. But that’s not how it works. The baptized life of the Christian involves the continual struggle against our sinful nature and the temptations of the world. Often we look to the wrong places for help or we don’t seek it at all. We thirst but we don’t seek water. We are famished but we don’t know we’re starving.
God comes to our rescue. Forgiveness heals, it mends, it restores. Christ knows our shortcomings and weaknesses. He knows our fears and anxieties. He knows what makes us tick. God operates in real time, in real space, with real people. He washes actual people with baptismal water; a cleansing that exceeds that of John the Baptist. He feeds physical beings with His body and blood- dripping with pardon. The promises of God are unfailing even when the tangible evidence seems to be lacking.
Few understood initially the implications of John’s proclamation. The Jews demanded signs. God provided His Son- a “sign” beyond the limits of their faith. People often wait in vain for dramatic signs or “proofs” of God’s presence. God is not obligated to supply them. He knows how prone we are to demanding a new miracle every minute much like the Israelites in the wilderness. Jesus was judicious when showing His divinity. He intends to transport earthlings to heaven, not transform this earth into a type of heaven. The implications for our faith are profound. Salvation is not to be sought in empirical proofs, but in the word. The power and majesty of God are reflected in nature but we can’t know God as a forgiving God in this way. The nature of God is revealed at the cross. The crucifixion defines His heart.
These things are beyond our direct discernment. In faith, we take God at His word. Listen to how the reformers articulated the biblical teaching, “We should not and cannot pass judgment on the Holy Spirit’s presence, operations, and gifts merely on the basis of our feeling, how and when we perceive it in our hearts. On the contrary, because the Holy Spirit’s activity often is hidden, and happens under cover of great weakness, we should be certain, because of and on the basis of His promise, that the Word which is heard and preached is an office and work of the Holy Spirit, whereby He assuredly is potent and active in our hearts.”3
Dear friends, what a blessing it is that we can have confidence in the independent certainty of God’s word! His promise to us is in no way compromised by human foible or frailty. Humans may cave in to doubt or give in to temptation but His edifices cannot be toppled. Human institutions are all houses of cards. His kingdom will stand forever. Hell will not prevail against it. Jesus’ death and resurrection provide the proof.
Soon we’ll be reminded of that truth the angel spoke to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”4 As we move toward celebrations of Christ’s birth the question of who might be absent from our gatherings may be on our minds. The people missing are in our thoughts and prayers. It’s part of our preparation. But a more important preparation is our focus. God Himself is the centre. Christ is not an absent guest. He is the present host. He is the King who comes bringing salvation. He comes to us in our particular time and place. With joy we celebrate the fulfillment of Isaiah’s words, “All flesh will see the salvation of God.”5 Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday of Advent
6 December, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Luke 3:3
2 Romans 12:1
3 SC FD II, 56
4 Luke 1:37
5 Luke 3:6