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 07, 2008

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (B)
December 7, 2008
Text: Mark 1:1-8

Advent is about preparation. Even the secular world knows this. Even those who have no idea what the season of Advent means for the Church of Jesus Christ know that Advent is all about preparation… preparation for Christmas! Secular Advent calendars count down the days until December 25th. The good ones even have chocolate behind each door or window. But the best these Advent calendars can do is remind us how many shopping days we have until Christmas and prepare us for the climactic moment when we can finally rip into the presents.

Of course, you and I know that Advent has much more significance for the people of God. For us, Advent is about so much more than shopping and decorating in preparation for the Christmas feast. It is about spiritual preparation to receive the true Christmas gift from God to all humanity. It is about preparation to receive the gift of God Himself wrapped in human flesh, come to be the Savior of the world. In fact, as we heard last week and as we are learning in our Advent midweek series, our Lord Jesus, God’s Christmas gift to us, comes to us in three ways: He came as our Savior, a baby born in a Bethlehem stable, God in the flesh come to die on the cross for our sins. He comes to us with His forgiveness, life, and salvation in His holy Word and Sacraments. And our Lord Jesus Christ will come again visibly on the Last Day to judge the quick and the dead. So Advent is about preparation to receive Jesus in each of these three ways. It is good and right that we prepare, that we not greet our Lord casually, but that we call upon Him to prepare us by His Holy Spirit to receive Him aright.

This morning in our Gospel lesson, St. John the Baptist comes to us proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). Repentance and forgiveness, that is true Advent preparation. John is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (v. 3; ESV). Elijah has come in John the Baptist. The point is not lost on the people of Judea and Jerusalem. He looks like Elijah. He is clothed in camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist. He eats locusts and wild honey. He conducts his ministry in the wilderness. So too, he acts like Elisha, Elijah’s successor, on whom a double portion of Elijah’s spirit rested. For just as Elishah directed Naaman to wash in the Jordan river and so be cleansed of his leprosy, so John the Baptist directs his hearers to wash, to be baptized, in the Jordan and so be cleansed of sin. A true prophet has come in the person of John the Baptist, and the people have not had a legitimate prophet for 400 years. They are excited. They hear him with all eagerness. They even suspect him of being the Messiah. But John rejects any such notion. He is not the Messiah. But, he declares, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (vv. 7-8). John has come to prepare the people to receive Jesus. John must decrease so that Jesus may increase. John prepares the people for the coming of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

The preaching of St. John the Baptist has been preserved on the pages of Holy Scripture for our benefit, for our learning. John bids us prepare this morning. We prepare for Jesus’ coming as Baby and Savior at Christmas, for His coming in His gifts of Word and Sacrament, and for His coming again on the Last Day. We prepare, as John says, in repentance, and in receiving the forgiveness of sins. I would suggest to you that such preparation is not pious sentiment, but real activity. It is first of all the activity of the Holy Spirit in you, working through His holy Word to bring you to repentance and then delivering to you the forgiveness of sins that you have through Jesus Christ. But such activity on the part of the Holy Spirit does not leave you inactive. John bids the people prepare the way of the Lord. Granted they do this in and through the Holy Spirit, and certainly not to earn forgiveness, but as a response to the gift of God in Jesus Christ, they prepare. The people of Judea and Jerusalem came to John to confess their sins and be baptized. So also there are concrete things that you should do, not to earn forgiveness, but as a response to the gift of God that you have in Jesus Christ. For example, you should actively prepare to celebrate Christmas this year. And here I don’t mean putting up the Christmas lights and baking cookies for the office party. I mean you should be spiritually preparing now to celebrate Christmas, the Christ-Mass, the feast of our Lord’s Nativity. You do this by attending our church services faithfully on Sunday morning, and I think it is a good Advent discipline to make sure you come to the Wednesday evening midweek services. Perhaps you also do some extra devotions during the season of Advent. Maybe you have an Advent wreath around your dinner table, and you light the candles for each week as you do devotions with your family. Whatever you do, you intentionally use this time before Christmas as a time of self-examination and repentance, a time of meditation on our Lord’s Word and of prayer, a time to receive anew and with joy the forgiveness that our Lord won for us on His cross. In this way you mark this as a special time to prepare to celebrate the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in this way, Christ Himself prepares you for His coming.

And just as we do not celebrate our Lord’s coming in the flesh at Christmas lightly, without preparation, so too we do not receive Him as He comes to us in His Word and Sacrament without preparation. While this is true of our reception of all of the Lord’s gifts, I’m thinking here particularly of the Sacrament of the Altar. We have specific instructions in the Holy Scriptures about how we should prepare for the Sacrament. St. Paul writes, “Whoever therefore, eats the bread and drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Cor. 11:27-29). We prepare for our Lord’s coming to us in His body and blood by examining ourselves. What should we ask ourselves when we perform such an examination? We should ask first of all if we believe we are sinners worthy only of damnation. We should ask if we realize our great need for our Savior Jesus Christ, if we are sorry for our sins, desire the forgiveness only Jesus brings, and if we want to do better. We should ask if we believe the risen Lord Jesus comes to us in this holy meal with His very body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins, to deliver to us the precious fruits of His cross, the benefits of His innocent, bitter sufferings and death. We should ask if the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation which He bestows on us here are really for us. And in this way we prepare the way John the Baptist teaches us to prepare, with repentance, receiving the forgiveness of our sins. For he is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” For the words, “For you,” require all hearts to believe (Small Catechism). And in this way we see again, it is really Jesus who is preparing us for His coming.

So we prepare for Jesus’ coming at Christmas and for His coming to us in His Word and Sacraments, with repentance and the hands of faith receiving His forgiveness. But we know also that there is another coming for which we need to prepare, His coming again to judge. St. Peter writes in our Epistle lesson, “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10). We don’t want to meet such a Day without preparation! But how do we prepare? Again, we take our cue from St. John the Baptist. Repent and believe the Good News. Your sins are forgiven. We meet the Day of Judgment with repentance and the forgiveness won by our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ. And we know that the same Lord Jesus Christ who loves us and died for us and is risen again for us, the same Lord Jesus Christ who came as Savior that first Christmas and who continually comes to us with His gifts in the Word and the Sacraments, that same Lord Jesus Christ is the One who sits in judgment on the Last Day. Well, if that is so, we need not fear! Jesus has prepared us for this very Day. As it turns out, Jesus first coming as Savior and His continual coming to us in Word and Sacrament are preparation for this Day of His second coming! Now, in response to this there are, to be sure, once again practical things we, as the people of God, do. Just as there are concrete things we do to prepare for Christmas and concrete things we do to prepare for the Lord’s Supper, so there are concrete things we do, as a result of our salvation in Christ Jesus, to prepare for our Lord’s second coming. The Christian life is a life of preparation for this Day, a life marked by repentance and the forgiveness of sins. St. Peter tells us what such a life looks like: “what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God… since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace” (vv. 11-12, 14). In other words, as those who have been redeemed by our Lord Jesus Christ and who await the final deliverance, we strive to live according to His will, observing His commandments, leading our lives to His glory, that men may see our good works and so glorify our Father who is in heaven. And when we fail (and we will fail!), we repent, and rest again in the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ. For He is the One who erases our spots and blemishes, the stains of our sin, by His blood.

Jesus Himself prepares us for His judgment. He makes us holy and clean. He gives us the strength and power to live a new life in Him. He baptizes us with His Spirit. This is not another Baptism than that which you received at the beginning of your faith. It was your Lord Jesus Christ, who through the hands of your pastor, poured water over your head in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. It was a washing of regeneration for the forgiveness of your sins. And it is to that Baptism that you return each day in repentance to receive once again the forgiveness that springs from this well of living water. The long and the short of our text this morning is this: We prepare for our Lord’s coming, in each of the ways He comes to us, with repentance, confessing our sins, being baptized, and receiving from Him the forgiveness of sins. And so we have a treasure that is beyond anything the secular world can imagine in all its Christmas sentimentality. We have Jesus Christ. He is THE Christmas gift. And you don’t have to wait until December 25th to receive Him. He is here today with His Word and His body and blood and His Holy Spirit, to give you the Kingdom of His Father. Let us prepare, then, and come to the feast. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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