As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”…And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”
Dear Advent worshipers of the Christ who comes into our midst this morning and who will come at last in judgment, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
In the seventh year of the presidency of Barack Obama, Scott Walker being governor of Wisconsin, Bryan Bjorge, President of the Arlington Village Board, during a time of spiritual and cultural decay, “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” In this wilderness, “keep on repenting”, “keep on preparing the way”. The proper question continues to be, “What then shall we do?”
John the Baptizer didn’t tip toeing around people’s sensitivities. He was the voice of one shouting in the wilderness – “turn around” – “straighten up”, “keep on repenting.” The repentance that John proclaimed differed from the repentance of Judaism, and still today of many so-called spiritualities, which says, “Repent, get your act together, then the kingdom of God will come”. John the Baptizer proclaimed, “repent” because the kingdom of God has come – it is upon you (Mt. 3:2). Simply stated, the repentance that John preached didn’t cause God’s coming but was a result of God in flesh coming, Jesus’ presence.
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”. The focus of John’s preaching was receiving Christ!
Dear Christian, repent! Your road needs rebuilding this Advent. The readiness God desires of us is not primarily one of sending cards or of decorating. The readiness God gives us is of the heart – repentance. We need to recognize that the axe should hit us. In fact, this recognition is central to the difference between the wheat and the chaff. The chaff did not allow themselves to be accused by John’s preaching of repentance. They would not listen. They felt secure in their station in life, in defending their decisions, in their religious action and in their pedigree as sons of Abraham. They were confident in their service to the church, trusted their time volunteering, and trusted that their parents were church members and that they were confirmed years ago. They did not ask in fear of God and in faith, “What shall we do?”
Dear Christian, repent! Start again today from zero. Your pride will not do, for every mountain and hill shall be made low. Your doubt and despair will not do, for every valley shall be filled. Your own agenda mapped out by personal preference won’t do. Your road, and mine, needs rebuilding this Advent, made straight by the salvation of God.
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. “What, then shall we do?”
To some extent, that depends! Tax collectors came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.” How predictable! And, how painful! Repentance for the one baptized starts right where they are in life, exactly in their vocation!
As Luther puts it in the Catechism in preparation for confession, consider your station in life. Love your neighbor as yourself! Let your love abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment. Husbands and wives in your love and service to each other. Children – love your parents and even honor them. Stop your pouting and self-pity and problem behavior and obey them in everything! To your employers and to your co-workers, to your friends and neighbors, seek their needs and serve them.
What shall we do? Approve what is excellent! The vulgarity and vile life and language often portrayed in our entertainment pollutes hearts and minds. This is not the holiness that Christ gives you. Pornography is not entertainment, it is poison. Foul and abusive language is not to be used, but let your words good and helpful, an encouragement to those who hear (Eph. 4:29). Approve what is excellent!
What then shall we do? Friends and neighbors, bridle your tongue. Gossip is a sin that soils not only another’s reputation but also the thoughts of the one whose tongue is wagging. Christ died for the one of whom you are speaking, so repent, defend your neighbor and explain everything in the kindest way. Pray for them.
What then shall we do? To the crowds John said, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” To each one of us the prophet’s voice still cries out “Don’t forget you are in a wilderness here. Don’t lay up treasures here on earth without first thought for the spiritual and physical clothing and food needed by others. Whose kingdom is it that you are building anyway?”
Fellow-redeemed, God does not ask us to fight the sins of a different vocation. Nor does He ask us to invent impressive ways to serve Him. Rather, in Christ’s Advent, He asks us to live in His forgiveness and daily battle against the sins in front of us and within us. Both the strength and the joy for that battle come from the mightier one that John proclaimed. John said, “I baptize you with water, be he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
What then shall this Mighty One, Jesus the Christ, do? Be conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. Suffer under Pontius Pilate, be crucified, dead and buried. On the third day rise again and ascend into heaven. Beloved, the Father sent Him forth in saving vocation for us.
His baptism was with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Anointed by the Holy Spirit in the Jordan, He took the fire of God’s wrath in our place on Calvary. The axe of God’s fury struck Jesus on the cross. He was cut off from the land of the living (Is. 53:8). The one tree that produced perfect fruit was cast into the fire for all of us dry and withered and fruitless tress.
Such is the freedom giving results of His bloody baptism on the cross. Despite us so often ignoring God’s call to repentance, rejecting his teachings in how we conduct out lives, and how this time of year we are tempted to be more interested in listening to the voice that says, “take, shop and buy” rather then, “take, eat and drink”. He picks us up and reminds us again and again that the cooling waters of Baptism run in our lives from the sin and guilt we carry with us.
Try to picture a family with a few children. These children didn’t submit a resume and sign a contract. Rather they are in the family because they were born into it or adopted into it! Sometimes these children have better days and are praised and sometime they have worse days and are disciplined. That’s how families work! So on which days are the children part of the family – the better days or the worse days? The answer, of course, is both. They’re not part of the family because their behavior measures up to a certain level. Parents don’t say to their children – “As long as you get through the checklist for the day than you can be our children – but if you come up short we’re going to disown you.” You see, a child is in a family because God has brought him or her there.
So what makes you a child of God? Not your birth but your rebirth brought you to God. You were born again into His family through water and His Word. He keeps you in His family through His presence and promised gifts – through partaking of His grace!
The world cannot take that away from you.
“What, then shall you do?”
Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. Don’t run away from home! Don’t persist willfully, impenitently in sin treating baptism like magic! Don’t remove yourself from your brothers and sisters at the family table – at the Supper of the Lamb. Repentance is not just feeling a little remorse. Repentance is not “getting your act together a little better in your own estimation.” Repentance is a complete change of heart caused by the steadfast, forgiving love of God who does not change! And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. He is the Mighty One, who forgives you, makes you pure and excellent, and fills you with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. Amen.