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 08, 2013

Second Sunday in Advent


Second Sunday in Advent (A)
December 8, 2013
Text: Matt. 3:1-12

            St. John was called to preach.  When you think about it, preaching, and listening to preaching for that matter, is perhaps a rather strange activity in our cultural setting, a remnant of custom from a bygone era.  We just don’t listen to speeches anymore.  Our grandparents and great grandparents, in fact our ancestors for most of the world’s history, enjoyed a good oration.  They were trained to pay attention, to listen and take it all in, even to memorize what was said.  Many in the previous generations were trained in the art of rhetoric, the third component in the trivium of classical education.  They memorized speeches so that they could learn to give good speeches.  I was thinking about this on the recent 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.  How many of you memorized President Lincoln’s speech?  Maybe some can still recite it.  I’m sure some children still learn it.  But I didn’t.  And I bet most of us haven’t memorized the orations of Cicero or other important speeches.  We just don’t have the time, or so we think.  We just don’t have the inclination.  Ours is a sound bite culture, a generation of miniscule attention spans.  Maybe you’re already tuning out.  Time for a commercial break, a flip of the channel, navigation to a new website.  It is easy to complain about the state of things and pine after the good old days, or vice versa, to ridicule the practice of the past as so old-fashioned, but this it is simply the reality that in our day, we don’t, as a general rule, give our undivided attention to speech makers.  And yet you’re here listening to a preacher.  And my point is simply this.  That’s counter-cultural.  That goes against our cultural instincts.  So why do you do it?  There must be something going on in preaching that sets it apart from other speech making.
            And there is.  The difference is dynamic.  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” John preaches (Matt. 3:2; ESV), and Jerusalem and all Judea make a pilgrimage to the wilderness to hear the message.  Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” proclaims every Christian preacher since John, for this is the heart and content of the proclamation of Christ, and you come on a blustery Sunday morning to hear and to take it to heart.  And it’s a miracle.  There is an urgency to the message.  The time is now.  Catastrophic, earth shattering things are happening.  God has arrived.  And that is not a thing to be taken lightly.  Especially by sinners.  The holiness of God must consume sinners as a wildfire consumes dry brush.  Except that it doesn’t.  For God comes in the flesh.  And what is miraculous is that in so coming He does not consume the flesh, nor does He consume us with whom He came to dwell.  As Moses observed the fire in the bush, yet the bush was not consumed, so the fullness of God dwells in the flesh, Jesus Christ, and that flesh is not consumed.  And He lives and walks among men without consuming them, without damning them, instead saving them, saving you and me.  He comes to die.  Of all things, God comes to die for sinners, for you.  That is what He does on the cross, defeating your sin and your death.  He comes to take death and hell captive and to rise victorious, to give life to those dead in trespasses and sins.  He comes to you now, in water, baptizing with the Holy Spirit and with fire, putting you to death, drowning you, killing you, then raising you to new life in His life, in His Spirit, by the power of His resurrection.  He comes to you now in Words that do things, Words that perform, Words that create, Words that kill and make alive, crucify and resurrect.  John preaches.  Your pastor preaches.  And it isn’t just any speech.  In that Word, Jesus comes.  He comes to you.  He comes for you, forgiving your sins and making you His own.  Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” John preaches (John 1:29).  He is always pointing to Jesus.  Jesus must increase.  John and your pastor must decrease.  John and I, we are not worthy to stoop down and untie our Lord’s sandal.  But we are to speak, and you are to hear.  The voice of the preacher cries out in the wilderness.  The kingdom of heaven is at hand.  Jesus comes as the sacrifice to take away your sins.  He comes.  Therefore “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight” (Matt. 3:3). 
            Prepare.  How do you prepare for such a momentous coming?  John tells you.  Repent.  You have sinned.  You have grieved your God.  You have hurt your neighbor.  You have exploited your fellow citizens.  You have spoken evil of your brothers and sisters.  You have sought your own good above the good of others, and God’s glory you have not sought.  You have justified yourself, refusing to confess your sins or even acknowledge that they are real.  You have made yourself your god, lived for yourself, worshiped yourself.  But God is coming.  He should come in wrath, and He will come to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.  But now He comes as a baby.  He comes in the flesh, as Savior, as the crucified, as the risen One who loves you.  His blood cleanses you from all sin.  To repent means to confess your sins, and then to believe Jesus’ Absolution, that He forgives your sins.  There are two parts of repentance, our confessions teach us (Apol. XII:28).  First there is contrition, sorrow over sin, the terror of the conscience, grief that you have grieved your God and Savior.  And second, there is faith, faith in Jesus Christ and His all-availing, sin-atoning death on the cross, and His victorious resurrection, that these are for you, that in Christ and His work on your behalf your sins are forgiven and you stand righteous before God. 
            Our confessions then speak of the fruit of repentance, and that is what St. John likewise preaches in our Gospel.  Bear fruit in keeping with repentance,” John commands (v. 8).  That means forsaking your selfishness, dying to self, and living in the new life Christ has given, living for your neighbor.  That means doing good works.  You see, this all happens after forgiveness, after confession and Absolution, after repentance and faith.  This is the fruit of all that, the natural consequence, that faith is always living, busy, and active in works of love.  So drop that grudge you’ve been harboring and go forgive your neighbor.  Defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything the in the kindest way.  Go buy some food and presents for the LWML Christmas families or put some money in the alms box to help and serve your neighbor in need.  Forsake your greed and covetousness.  If money has a hold on you, give it away.  If time has a hold on you, give it to your neighbor in whatever service he may need.  Husbands, go love your wives.  Wives, go love your husbands.  Pluck out your wandering eye.  Delight in the children God has given you.  Delight in the work God has given you to do.  Delight in your brothers and sisters in Christ.  Read a Scripture.  Sing a hymn.  Belly up to the Altar for the Feast.  Rejoice.  Repent.  It is all one cloth, the Christian life that is death and resurrection.  Prepare the way of the Lord, which is to say, hear and believe His Word.  For He comes to you, in mercy, to serve you, to save you.  He comes to give His all for you.  He gave Himself into death for you.  He is risen and lives for you.  And He comes here in His Word and the Sacrament to be your all.
            It’s a strange thing, preaching, isn’t it?  You come week after week to hear a less-than-eloquent man, lacking in presentation and charisma, say the same thing he always says about the same old subject.  Why do you do it?  It’s so counter cultural, so contrary to instinct.  You do it because you know that hidden behind the weak man, the sinner, is Christ Himself who bore our sins, really present, speaking to you.  He is the Word made flesh, the Logos, the Word that is with God, the Word that is God.  He comes.  He speaks.  And His Word does what it says.  He says repent, and you do.  Repentance is God’s gift to you, His work in you.  He says believe, and you do.  Faith is God’s gift to you, His work in you.  He says your sins are forgiven, and they are.  He says you have new life, and you do.  It is all done by His Spirit in His Word, by which Christ comes to you really and truly, aurally and orally, to bring you to the Father as God’s own child.  Well, you’d go out to the wilderness to hear that, wouldn’t you?  Thank God you don’t have to.  You can come into the nice warm building and sit in the padded pew to hear it.  That may not always be the case.  But no matter.  You’ll go anyway.  Because when the Good Shepherd calls, the sheep hear His voice, and they know Him and they come to Him.  He comes to you in His Word, that you may come to Him.  You wouldn’t miss it for the world, no matter how counter cultural it may be.  For you do not live by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of your God.  St. John was called to preach.  Your pastor is called to preach.  And you are called to hear the preaching, and you do so gladly.  Because in hearing, God prepares you.  In hearing, you repent and believe.  In hearing, the Kingdom of heaven, Jesus Christ Himself, comes to you.  It is God’s gracious gift in Christ.  In preaching, the God of hope fills you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you abound in hope (Rom. 15:13).  In preaching, God fills you with Christ.  Beloved, preaching is a strange thing in our culture, but it is the life-giving breath of Christ into His Church, into you.  Receive the Holy Spirit.  Hear the preaching.  Your sins are forgiven.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.            

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