Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent
December 6, 2015, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 3:1-14
Sermon Theme: “The Color of Repentance”
(Sources: Anderson, Cycle C, Preaching Workbook; What Luther Says, CPH Anthology; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Repent and Sin No More, Online Jokes; Repent and Be Saved Online Commentary; original ideas)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sin is not a joking matter, and confession and repentance must be taken seriously. However, I want to share a joke about repentance that really makes a very good point.
Once there was a tradesman, a painter named Jack, who was very interested in making a dollar where he could. So he often would thin down his paint to make it go a bit farther. As it happened, he got away with this for some time.
Eventually, the local church decided to do a big restoration project. Jack put in a painting bid, and, because his price was so competitive, he got the job. And so he started, erecting the trestles and putting up the planks, and buying the paint and thinning it down with turpentine.
Jack was up on the scaffolding, painting away, the job nearly done, when suddenly there was a horrendous clap of thunder. The sky opened and the rained poured down, washing away the thinned down paint from all over the church and knocking Jack off the scaffold to land on the lawn.
Jack was no fool. He knew this was a judgment from the Almighty, so he fell on his knees and cried, “Oh, God! Forgive me! What should I do?”
And from the thunder, a mighty voice spoke, “Repaint! Repaint! And thin no more!”
This joke makes a very good point. Confession that is lip service only is rarely followed by true repentance. True repentance means to turn around – not just say you’re sorry, but do something about it, — like repainting the church without putting paint thinner in the paint.
God called Moses to lead the people of Israel out of a physical wilderness to the edge of the Promised Land. In our sermon text, God called John the Baptist, who came out of a physical wilderness, to serve as Jesus’ forerunner and lead the people out of a spiritual wilderness into the Promised Land of Salvation.
Our text says, “And [John the Baptist] went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins . . . , crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.’”
As large crowds gathered to hear him, this strange preacher shouted, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”
In New Testament times, before a king would come into a less inhabited region, the royal road builder would get busy and smooth a road for the king to travel on. God needs a road into the rough regions of our heart. Before He enters, the mountains of pride must be leveled. The valleys of hopelessness must be raised up. The crooked and deceitful places need to be straightened and the rough surface features smoothed over. Repentance provides a road for God to enter into our lives. As Christ’s forerunner, John is the Royal Road Builder.
So what is John the Baptist doing in Advent? Why does he have to show up to spoil the fun of Advent, — you don’t see him placed in the Nativity Scene on the altar! Mary and Joseph and Baby Jesus and the Shepherds and angels are the wondrous delights of Advent! Can’t we leave him out?
Well, some contemporary churches do. But we must not. From the early church on, both Advent and Lent were considered penitential seasons, seasons for repentance. Don’t confuse “Penitence” with “Penance.” Penitence and repentance are pretty much the same thing, but “Penance” means “self-punishment inflicted on yourself.” “Repentance” and “Penitence” mean being truly sorry for your sins with the desire to turn around and do better.”
Ever since the early church, purple has always been the color of repentance, and was the altar color and the stole color for both Advent and Lent, and is used to remind us to repent. Just as we must not take John the Baptist out of Advent, we must not replace purple with blue, because symbols often speak louder than words.
During Advent, we are called to repentance, sincere repentance. Martin Luther said that many people have what he called, “Gallows Repentance.” These people are sorry they got caught committing a crime and will be punished for it, but they are not sorry for the crime. When a person repents in such a way, he is not ashamed that he offended God, but merely regrets he “injured” himself.
Luther says, “To repent means to feel the wrath of God in earnest because of one’s sin, so that the sinner experiences anguish of heart and is filled with a painful longing for the salvation and the mercy of God.” There is no faith without repentance and no repentance without faith, as repentance is a fruit of faith.
“Repentance” is a very difficult subject to teach to a Confirmation Class. When one pastor began the lesson on repentance in his Confirmation class, he asked the youngsters, “What must we do before we can expect forgiveness of sin?”
After a long silence in the room, one of the boys in attendance raised his hand and said, “Sin?”
Well, that’s not exactly a wrong answer, and the kid did not mean to be funny. If you didn’t sin, you couldn’t be forgiven?
We could use a John the Baptist to preach to us today, couldn’t we? Many people believe that America has become a God-less, immoral nation, not like we used to be.
However, Pastor Tom Keller, a Presbyterian pastor from New York, contends that ours is an “amoral” rather than and “immoral” society. An immoral society can be defined as one in which right and wrong are clearly understood and wrong behavior is chosen. The person violating the Commandments, or violating the civil law, knows right from wrong, and chooses wrong! That was no doubt true of the people in John the Baptist’s day.
Pastor Keller contends that today in America, we live in an amoral society – one in which “right” and “wrong” are categories with no universal meaning, and everyone “does what is right in his or her own eyes.” It is still a God-less society, and in some ways amoral is worse than immoral. At least the immoral person recognizes that he is sinning, but the amoral person does not, because he himself decides what is right or wrong.
Rev. Keller further points out that at some point in recent history, skeptics rejected Christianity because they denied its claim to truth. For instance, miracles were regarded as fossils of a non-scientific age. Today, skeptics, who are in the highest places, reject Christianity because they deny all its claims to truth. All absolutes are thrown out the window. The philosophy of the 20th and 21st Centuries say that moral absolutes can be ascertained by human reason. They teach that there are no moral absolutes to discover. Consequently, those in power, those in control, define the meaning of truth.
How can we expect the young people of this nation to repent of lying, cheating, stealing, fornicating, using and selling drugs, behaving with violence, and abusing and destroying others if God’s Laws are no longer the norm for behavior? The Christian church most hold to the reality of moral absolutes, which derive their authority from the Word of God. In fact we must be leaders in promoting the reality of moral absolutes. Like John the Baptist, we must cry out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
As true believers, we are all called to witness for God. Thus we must heed God’s warning delivered through the Old Testament Prophet, Ezekiel: “When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin and I will hold you accountable for his blood.’” However, if we warn him and he does not heed the warning, we will not be held accountable.
At the same time, we must believe in and tell others about the beautiful, joyful truth of the Christ Child in the Manger, and the hope, peace, joy, and love His truth brings, and how God loved the world so much He allowed that Holy Child to grow to manhood and sacrifice Himself for you and me, and for all other sinners, even those who are amoral and immoral in all their thoughts. He arose from the dead as proof of His truth! We rejoice, as do the angels in heaven, when even one person comes to faith and turns away from their evils ways.
Our paraments and vestments will be white at Christmas. Our decorations will be red and green. These are the colors of celebration and joy, and our celebration should indeed be jubilant. But on this second Sunday in Advent, let us think purple, as we genuinely confess our sins and wholeheartedly repent of them. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.