Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent
December 8, 2013, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Sermon Theme: “So Why Do We Need to Repent?”
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
You know, some people consider this countdown to Christmas as “Party Time!” It’s the time of year for giving and going to Christmas parties. When I was still teaching at the college, I had some colleagues who actually competed to see who could get themselves invited to the most cocktail parties during December. “Free booze!” They would say.
When my colleagues were throwing their Christmas parties, I know for certain they would not have invited John the Baptist. Come to think of it, I probably would not have invited John either.
First of all, his dress would be outlandish. Camel’s hair and a big leather belt around his waist. Then you would offer him the food of the day at which he would sneer and pull out a pouch of locusts and wild honey. And who knows what he might say to your guests who were there to party and have a good time. At some point, somebody there would have walked up to him and said, “Look, Baptist, you go hang out at the Jordan River and let us party-hardy!” No, he probably wouldn’t even be on my guest list.
But . . . but, if I wanted a person to proclaim the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, I would for sure scout out John wherever he might be and then step back and let him have his due for the sake of the Lord. With fully expanded lungs, he would announce, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This forerunner of Jesus was not easy on people. In our sermon text, he strikes out at the hypocritical religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, when he calls them a “brood of vipers.”
All of the Bible stories are so beautiful and lovely during Advent and Christmas, — breathless anticipation, a sweet little baby in a manger, and a sky full of radiant angels, — and along comes John the Baptist, like someone who rains on your parade. Why does he have to appear in the stories at Advent?
Well, John the Baptist used a word rarely heard anymore. The New York Times probably prints it only a few times a year. It’s almost never used in social circles or in private conversations. It’s an important word, though, because John frequently spoke it, and it was one of the first words spoken by Jesus in His public ministry. In fact, John and Jesus emphasized the six-letter word and commanded people to do it. When the Apostle Paul preached in Athens, he said that “God commands all people everywhere” to do it.
I’m talking about the word “repent.” In the feel good preaching that is done in most mega churches today, you hear sermons about faith, hope, and especially love, but you seldom hear the word “repent.” Yet, unless you repent, you’re not a Christian.
In the modern world today, it’s not just the “show business” churches that never preach repentance, there is some evidence of the disappearance of the word in the liturgical, lectionary-following, traditional churches, too.
The fact that Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season as well as a season of joy (and the two can go together) was shown by the use of the penitential color purple for the paraments, from the earliest of times. Many traditional churches in recent years have switched to blue, which is not a penitential color, but symbolizes joy. The reason they give is that they want to be modern and up-to-date. But changing the altar color from purple to blue is like throwing John the Baptist out with the bath water.
As some of you know, I have always refused to change our Advent colors from purple to blue. When Christians celebrate the coming of Jesus, from the earliest of times to now, we were and are expected to celebrate His Second Coming at the End of Times as well as His First Coming as a baby in Bethlehem. Leaving out repentance makes you unprepared for the Second Coming, and even for the First Coming. What right do you have to come to the Manger of Jesus as an unrepentant sinner? As a sinner, yes, but without repentance, no!
I don’t know that it’s an excuse, but we are a product of the times we live in. The worldly view is not that human beings are sinners in need of repentance; no, instead, it explains the bad behavior of people by saying they are “victims” of their circumstances, victims of their poverty, victims of their upbringing, etc. They are not sinners, they are simply victims. This is not to deny that there are in some cases legitimate victims; but even legitimate victims are also sinners.
In today’s world, people refuse to accept responsibility for their own actions. Even from a non-religious point of view, that is a problem, because there is no growth, no change, no turning things around, because there is no honest self-awareness. “I’m not a sinner; I don’t need to repent; I am a victim of the way society has treated me.” Rubbish!
John Brokhoff, famous writer and professor of theology, once told the story about a man in church, listening to a powerful sermon about the need to admit you are a sinner, confess your sins and repent. At the end of the sermon, greatly moved, the man stood up and proclaimed loudly to all, “I’ve been a sinner, a contemptible sinner. And I’ve been one for years but I never knew it before tonight!”
An Elder, who was standing in the aisle near the man, leaned over and whispered to him, “Sit down, brother, the rest of us have known it all the time!”
When John the Baptist came preaching repentance in the desert wilderness of Judea, some recognized him as “the voice crying in the wilderness” to prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight, the herald, the forerunner of the Messiah. Without a doubt, most folks had no idea who he really was, but they didn’t just follow him, they flooded after him. He didn’t have to go after them; they came to him in great numbers.
They flocked to him to receive instruction for spiritual renewal and to be baptized as a sign of their repentance. The floods of people coming to John indicate that there was a spiritual uneasiness and a readiness to change. They wanted to be relieved of the burden of their sins, to receive God’s forgiveness, so that they could experience the joy of being a child of God.
When I was growing up in the 1940’s, in Trinity Lutheran Church, Dime Box, we used to have fiery preachers like John the Baptist who shouted at you from the pulpit. Not only that, some of you may remember those early Lutheran Hour preachers on the radio. When my mother listened to them on the radio in the house, I could hear them shouting all the way in the chicken yard. Some of us stubborn sinners needed to hear that kind of preacher.
So, why DO we need to repent? Essentially there are four reasons.
One, because the Second Coming of our Lord will appear like a thief in the night, when we least expect it. We must be ready for our Lord’s return at all times.
Two, because it is the way to enable God to enter our lives; God cannot enter if sin is in control. Our repentance is a sign of our faith.
Three, because fruitfulness follows repentance which enables our lives to be fruitful. In our text, John accuses the Pharisees and Sadducees of not bearing the fruit of repentance, — which means they really didn’t think they were sinners.
Four, because without repentance, we cannot escape God’s judgment. God does not desire any to be lost; yet, some will not repent, will be judged and will be condemned.
None of us like to be shouted at, do we? Yet, if a small child is about to touch a hot stove, you yell at him to keep him from seriously burning himself; your intervention keeps him from serious injury. Likewise, we need penitential seasons in the church and voices like John the Baptist, to remind us to repent and why we need to repent.
Repentance accepts the forgiveness the crucified and resurrected Jesus has offered us, and with that forgiveness, our hearts are at peace. As many of us have discovered over the years, it is only when our hearts are at peace that we can feel the deep joy as we see the manger scenes with the baby Jesus and hear the beautiful words of carols like “Silent Night.”
So let us prepare ourselves for the Christ Child, by lifting our hearts up in repentance, and accepting the loving forgiveness from our Savior and thus approach Christmas in the peace and joy of His love. Amen.