+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 3:10-14
Theme: Robustness Of Repentance
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Advent is a season to refocus. It’s not simply an annual review of that time in biblical history. It’s an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to renew our faith. John the Baptizer sends you a query, “Is your repentance robust?” It’s not a question that should take us by surprise. Perhaps we’ve been lulled into apathy by the repetition of the questions as they are presented in our liturgy? “Do you confess that you have sinned and do you repent of your sins?” “Do you intend with the help of the Holy Spirit to live as in God’s presence, and to strive daily to lead a holy life, even as Christ has made you holy?”1 Your answer is not academic.
Today John confronts the people with the same questions; though somewhat more forcefully. He gets a genuine response. What follows is practical catechesis. Repentance is evidenced by a change in attitudes and activities. It has concrete expression. The people wanted to know what that would look like in their personal lives. Here John advises the common person, tax collectors, and soldiers. It’s a basic template that’s still useful today. Whether we are farmers, teachers, truck drivers, or small business owners, students, or retirees, repentance involves taking account of and being responsible for our actions.
Remember Luther’s advice (which is simply a summary of the biblical approach). When wondering which sins should be confessed (that is, repented of), Luther says, “Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt some by your words or deeds…”2 We note immediately not only how practical, but how vocational Luther’s approach is. The sins we are to repent of relate very concretely to the privileges and responsibilities of our relationships. We are often most tempted in regards to things where we possess responsibility or where we lack privilege.
But repentance is not the management of moral infraction. It is the preparation to receive divine compassion. Repentance is not even something we can initiate. Nothing happens- nothing would ever happen- no movement of the soul, no query of the heart of God, if God Himself did not confront us with His holiness. In other words, until God makes us aware of His presence, His intentions, and our estrangement from Him, humans go along in their merry way idolizing themselves and constructing others idols that suit. God convicts us of the reality that we need His help. The Holy Spirit initiates and gifts us with repentance.
Still, the human will is prone to resist. Can these things really be as serious as God says? The power of human pride should never be underestimated. It blinds us to the truth. It can make us impervious to any legitimate criticism. We typically manage it by rationalizing, avoiding, or challenging. When we seek to discount any claims we just make excuses. When we’re too afraid to face the truth we withdraw. When we really get our back up we may confront the accusation face to face. Pride is the key element in all these responses. Our human nature always seeks to salvage as much of it as we can. When our pride is allowed to expand without limits it quickly fills every space in our hearts.
The human heart was made for one Master. And He comes to reclaim His throne. It’s governance that’s continually contested. Luther once said that Christians have has more than enough to occupy themselves for their entire lives just engaging in their baptisms. By this He didn’t just mean fond memories of God’s blessings in baptism as a past historical event. Every act of repentance is a return to the promise of baptism. The greatest challenge of Christianity is taking God at word. The great challenge is the believing. The attitudes and actions follow accordingly.
Faith, then, is the key. Remember what the catechism says about preparing to receive Holy Communion. “Fasting and bodily preparation are certainly fine outward training. But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: ‘Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”3 Faith completes the preparation. Through faith all the blessings of God are received. Baptismal water cleanses the soul. Divine food nourishes the craving spirit. The comfort of His word continually brings peace to our chaotic lives.
Dear friends, you and I may be contemptible sinners. But Christ is a compassionate Saviour. The dark things you have desired may be known only to Him. But the suffering He endured is known to the world. Your secret sins are atoned for by His public sacrifice. Our shame is abolished by His mercy. Our failure is erased by His victory. Nothing is hidden from Him and He desires to hide none of His mercy from us.
The love of God in Christ is mysterious but it is not secret. The person of Christ makes transparent the will of God. Jesus, God-in-the flesh, Immanuel does not glide among us covertly. He wishes to be made known. Think briefly of the evidence the Scripture records. Angels announced His birth. Herod soon heard of the newborn King. His life appeared mostly unremarkable until His public ministry began. Miracles commenced. Demons surrendered. His teaching was authoritative. Crowds gathered. Fame followed.
The world was put on notice. Scholars were befuddled. Power-brokers squabbled. Average people wavered between hope and doubt, expectation and disappointment. The created sphere submitted to His persuasion. Waves were stilled. Wind was hushed. Storms were quelled. When He hung from the cross the sun covered its eyes, the foundations of the earth trembled. The news was published far and wide. Luke says today, “With many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.”4
That same Messiah now rules tirelessly for His church. When we call upon God in need He answers in mercy. He answers in deed and truth. The cross was borne for you. His resurrection revives your life. His ascension is a preview of the future that awaits you. The prophets carry this Good News. “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 The apostles do too. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”6Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Third Sunday of Advent
13 December, 2015
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 LHB p.6
2 Luther’s Small Catechism
4 Luke 3:18
5 Zephaniah 3:17
6 Philippians 4:6-7