+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Luke 3:4-6
Theme: Grounded In History
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Your salvation is grounded in history. The means and substance of the forgiveness of your sins were not immaterial and conceptual. Christianity is not a state of mind. Christ’s blood was shed. His body was broken. Believers are reconciled to God not on the level of theoretical concept but of tangible accomplishment. To be sure these things remain mainly hidden to sinful eyes, but these substantive realities do not drain our faith of its mystery but rather highlight it. The physical resurrection of the dead will bring all these things to light. Advent directs believers to just such expectations.
The historical detail Luke uses today is significant. The circumstances surrounding the ministry of Christ are described in relevant historical terms. Unlike the mythical gods and goddesses of Greek and Roman history no embellishment or imaginary context is needed. Idols require props and ornamentation but Jesus is grounded in real and verifiable history. Judea, Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate, Herod, Caiaphas, John the Baptist were the chosen places and personalities involved in the setting for Christ’s work of redemption.
The promise of Bethlehem must come to fulfillment. At that time and place, under those rulers and circumstances God prepared people for His entrance into human existence in a manner never seen before. Yes, God walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. He visited Abraham before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He appeared to Moses in the burning bush. He manifested Himself in the holy of holies by a cloud. He intervened with power, might, judgment, majesty, and mercy in human affairs whenever He deemed it necessary. But never before had He identified so intimately with His creation. In Jesus God became man. In Jesus God became man so that people could be with God. The child in a manger would soon be a victim on the cross.
A fiery preacher named John is burdened with announcing the Messiah’s arrival. In His ministry he pulls no punches. The utterly wayward creation must come to recognition of its sin. That which is uneven must be leveled. All that is crooked must be made straight. Such frankness is still necessary to confront the sinner today. Though outwardly we might put on an appearance of readiness God sees the filthiness of the heart. He knows the crookedness of our ways and the deep ravines caused by our selfishness. The specific goal of His word of warning is to provide the avenue for the Holy Spirit to convict the heart. Repentance happens in this way. Before Christ’s death means anything to us we must be shown how desperate our situation is.
Those under the power of the law and doomed to the judgment of the world have no other rescue, no other help, no other hope. Nor do they need any other. Jesus’ sacrifice alone is sufficient to cover the sins of the entire human race. Christianity is not a religion of the ghetto or a devotion limited to certain peoples of particular times or ethnic backgrounds. Isaiah says, “The glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it.”1 The gospel is the universal liberator, the global message of emancipation, the only comprehensive power that brings true freedom to every soul bound in Satan’s chains, overcome by sin’s weight and suffocated by an atmosphere filled with falsehood and deceit.
Christ offers a divine gift that no human can duplicate. The forgiveness of sins is the heart of the gospel. It is this blessing that truly determines our standard of living. We have affluence. We have medicine. We have technology. Material comforts cushion our lives. Medical technology looks after our health. Electronic communications of all types facilitate our careers and dominate our leisure. But what are all these without the forgiveness of sins? What help are these without the reconciliation of Christ? We have money but we can’t buy love, compassion and forgiveness. We have medicine but it can’t revive the withered soul. We have hi-tech communication but we often can’t manage the simplest relationships. All these things will pass away with the fallen creation.
But the words of Christ will never pass away. The apostle Peter says of believers,
“You have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”2 The Holy Spirit takes this seed, which is the word of God, and germinates it in peoples’ hearts. In this sense Christianity is truly miraculous and supernatural and not one bit reasonable and rational. If the seed were to wait for the human will and heart to embrace it with warmth it would remain cold, inert, and unmoved. Scripture testifies that humans are born spiritually blind and dead, that is the meaning of original sin. And no human or worldly influence that acts upon us from without- whether it is the most enlightened philosophy or the most generous kindness-can change that state of existence. And neither can any power we can muster from within at any age or in any circumstance revive a spirit that’s cold, hard, and dead. Any definition of original sin the fails to recognize the complete spiritual incapacitation that every human is born into falls short of the Bible’s teaching. No one possesses inherent goodness from within; we are gifted with Christ’s alien righteousness from without.
You see, grace either conquers all or it concedes to everything. That is, either grace alone accounts us righteous before God, grace alone makes us worthy to pass through heaven’s gates, grace alone gives us the peace that passes understanding; or it is at best only a supplement to what we must bring to the table. And then it is no longer grace. Grace stands alone or it does not stand. Faith only receives this gift. Good works then show that faith exists. The Scripture says “Abraham believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.”3 The apostle says, “To the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.”4
Dear friends, in this time and place the grace of God continues to be historically relevant for you. Your sins are forgiven, here, now, in this context, in this place. Baptized believers are part of the church’s history and the history of the Messiah, who has come, suffered, died, risen, ascended and will come again. Christians have the highest standard of living regardless of poverty or sickness or tough economic times because we have divine blessings. We enjoy the best food; His body and blood, we are part of the royal family; baptized into Christ’s kingdom, and we have the most secure future; a heavenly home ruled by the Lord of deliverance and compassion. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Second Sunday of Advent
9 December 2018 (from Dec 6th, 2009)
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Isaiah 40:5
2 1 Peter 1:23
3 Genesis 15:6
4 Romans 4:5