Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (A)
December 9, 2007
Text: Matt. 3:1-12

Advent is about preparation, and this morning St. John the Baptist calls upon us and all the world to prepare the way of the Lord. He calls upon us to prepare by repenting. Repentance is the preparation that is called for in this Advent season as Christmas fast approaches. Prepare to receive your newborn King by repenting of your sins and turning to Him in faith. Come humbly, confessing your sins, just as the masses from Jerusalem and the surrounding region came to John for holy absolution in the Jordan. That’s what repentance is. It is sorrow over sin and confession to God and a desire to receive His mercy and forgiveness. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9; ESV).

The Pharisees and Sadducees did not come to confess their sins or to be cleansed by John. They came to make an outward show. They came to be seen. They came to be baptized by John because it was the “in thing” to do and it made them appear holy and righteous in their own eyes and the eyes of the people. They thought the mere outward performance of the act was sufficient preparation. They thought they pleased God by their outward show of piety. But they were sadly mistaken. They were deceiving themselves. They said they had no sin, or at least not that much sin. The truth was not in them. Thus St. John’s biting rebuke: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Matt. 3:7).

At the seminary, they don’t recommend that we begin our sermons by calling the congregation a brood of vipers. It certainly doesn’t earn the pastor any extra esteem from his congregation. Yet maybe this is precisely the Word of the Lord that the people of the Lord need to hear. Because the warning wasn’t just to the Pharisees and Sadducees of old. It was to all who think themselves sinless, righteous, or at least not so bad in the sight of the Lord. I doubt very much that anyone in this congregation this morning would boast that they are sinless. But I can guarantee that every one of us in this congregation has at one time or another thought of ourselves more highly than we ought, compared ourselves to others like terrorists or child-molesters or shooters at shopping malls and thought, “at least I’m not as bad as that guy.” And even in small matters we are guilty of this self-righteousness. I can guarantee that every one of us in this congregation has unjustly judged our neighbor, trying to remove the speck from our brother’s eye but failing to take note of the beam in our own. I can guarantee that every one of us has at one time or another spoken ill of our neighbor behind his back. And every one of us, without exception, has thought deep down in his or her own heart, perhaps even subconsciously, “I may not be perfect, but surely God must love me more than those who murder, or rape, or… [fill in the blank].” You brood of vipers. Repent.

Self-righteousness is not the preparation St. John is calling for. He is calling for deep and painful self-examination, real and painful confession of sins, and the crucifixion of the self. John is preaching the Law of God to kill you. Because this is a life and death matter! “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 10). In other words, if you don’t produce fruit in keeping with repentance (v. 8), if you don’t forsake yourself and your own idea of what it means to be righteous before God, if you trust in your outward works, or your descent from Abraham, or your volunteer work, or even your membership in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, you will find yourself at the wrong side of Jesus on Judgment Day.

So the Law of God must kill you before God kills your soul and body in hell. It is only when you are dead that you can be raised to life again. That’s what God does in the preaching of His Law. It is painful to confess your sins. It is deadly, in fact. It requires a crucifixion of the self to actually name the sin of which you are guilty, out loud, before the pastor. But absolution, forgiveness, is the healing Word of Jesus that makes alive again. It is painful to be baptized. It is a drowning that happens not just once, at the baptismal font, but every day as you live in your Baptism, drowning the old Adam in you with all his sins and evil desires. But Baptism is also the washing of regeneration. It brings you to new life. The people came to John to confess their sins and be baptized. It was painful and deadly business. But that is the life of repentance. That is the life John is calling for when he cries to you from the Judean wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (v. 3).

You may ask at this point, however, what is the fruit of repentance that we should bear? If we are to despair of our own works and our own righteousness, of which we have none anyway, then what shall we do? Beloved, if you are to bear fruit in keeping with repentance, you must be in Christ. You must be in that shoot from the stump of Jesse, the branch from his roots, who bears the fruit of righteousness (Is. 11:1), our Lord Jesus Christ. You must possess His fruit, His righteousness. You must be grafted into Him, into the One on whom the Spirit of the Lord rests, “the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” (v. 2). And then you will begin to produce the real fruit of repentance. Then you will have the fruits of the Spirit, such as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23), against which there is no law. For when you are in Christ, you are also in the Father and the Holy Spirit. You are in God Himself and He does His work in you and through you.

How then are you grafted into Christ? How do you come to this blessed state of preparation by which you are united to the Holy Trinity and do works in keeping with repentance? By Baptism and faith. Christ Himself brings you into that relationship with God. You do not do it. Christ does it to you and in you. John tells you this in our text. John is not the Christ, but he points you to the One who is: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11). He is speaking, of course, of Jesus, your Savior, the Son of God and Son of Mary.

You are united to Christ in Holy Baptism, and your Baptism is not just what happened at the font when as a baby or as an adult the water was poured over you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It is an ongoing reality for you. It is a whole new life. It is a life of repentance and faith, death and resurrection, drowning and new birth. It is a life of believing in Christ and a life of union with Christ. If you’re grafted into the tree of Christ, the axe will not chop you down. You will bear fruit in keeping with repentance. You will bear fruit in keeping with faith. For Christ, in whom you are grafted, will bear His fruit in you. “I am the vine; you are the branches” says Jesus. “Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

You bear fruit and prepare for the coming Christ by abiding in Christ. You abide in Him by partaking of His fruit, the fruit of His cross, which has become a life-giving tree for all who trust in Him. That fruit is given to you in the Gospel and Sacraments. In a few moments you will come to the altar of the Lord and He will place the fruit of His cross into your mouths for the forgiveness of your sins. He will give you all the benefits of His sin-atoning death. He will give you all the power of His resurrection. And He will give you power for repentance and new life now. Don’t come forward as Pharisees and Sadducees, exalting in your own righteousness. Come as tax-collectors and sinners. Come as beggars. Come as dead men. For the dead man cannot raise himself. But Jesus can raise the dead. The Risen One comes with healing in His wings. It is free to all. Believe it and it is yours. Jesus gathers His wheat, gathers you, safely into His barn (Matt. 3:12), the Holy Church, to receive these gifts. He does so out of pure grace. Let us therefore keep the feast. Let us come for the tangible forgiveness of the Supper. For if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He does just that in the Supper of His Son’s body and blood. He does it to you this morning. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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