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, 2014

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (B)

December 7, 2014
Text: Mark 1:1-8

            How are you doing with your Christmas preparation?  That is what the Season of Advent is all about: preparation for Christmas; preparation for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  But we are all too often more concerned with the preparation that must be done for the outward celebration of the season, the outward trappings of the holiday, rather than the Holy Day’s actual content: Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, born of the Virgin, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger; born to die, to save you.  While we’re busying ourselves with preparations for Christmas parties and family gatherings, gift exchanges and whatever else we do, we fall into the trap of thinking Christmas depends on us, on what we do, on our preparing, our purchasing, our cleaning and cooking and baking, our time spent in endless activity, hustle, and bustle.  It actually makes Christmas a rather hard time of year for many of us.  Every year I hear more than one person say, “I can’t wait until Christmas is over.”  Which is probably a phrase that should never be heard upon Christian lips.  But it is.  And it undoubtedly indicates a misdirected focus upon the busy-ness of the season, rather than upon content of the Gift: Jesus Christ, our Savior.
            Repent.  That is actually the preparation Advent calls for.  Repentance.  Self-examination.  An honest and thorough analysis of your heart, your life, your spiritual condition.  And then confession that you are empty, that you are not prepared, that you have nothing within yourself but sin and death.  You despise your neighbor.  You gossip.  You covet.  You lust.  It is no accident that in Advent we hear so much from St. John the Baptist.  Now “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4; ESV).  John was sent by God to be the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord” (v. 3).  Here the Lord sets before us what is essential in our preparation for Christmas.  Baptism, repentance, the forgiveness of sins.  All of which go together.  St. Mark begins his account of the Gospel with Baptism, which is not a bad place to be in Advent (Dr. Peter Scaer).  Advent prepares us for Christ’s birth, and Baptism is all about our new birth in Christ by water and the Word.  Advent begins a new Church Year, and Baptism begins a new you.  And in Baptism, Christ advents, He comes, personally and intimately, to you, to make you His own.  He makes His dwelling with you.  You are baptized into Christ.  You are baptized into Christ’s death, and Christ’s resurrection.  You are dead to sin and alive to God in Christ, as St. Paul writes: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:3-4).  Your death is done in Baptism, for you have been joined to Christ on His cross.  Your Old Adam, the sinful nature, has been drowned with all sin and evil desire.  You have been raised up by Christ, spiritually now as a new creation.  You already have eternal life.  You will be raised up by Christ physically, on the Last Day, when He calls your body forth from the grave.  And you are God’s own child.  He has written His Name upon you: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and marked you with the sign of Jesus’ cross.  You belong to God.  Chosen and precious.  Loved. 
            You do still sin, though, and that is why our Advent preparation calls for repentance.  In fact, the entire life of the Christian is to be a life of repentance.  Even though your sin has been done to death in your Baptism, the Old Adam, as Luther says, is a good swimmer.  He keeps popping up out of the water.  He clings to you as long as you are in this fallen flesh.  But you hate him.  You long to be rid of him.  That’s not who you are anymore now that you are in Christ.  And so you daily return to your Baptism, plunging the Old Adam under the water once again, daily drowning him, which is to say, you repent.  Repentance is nothing other than a daily return to Baptism.  It is showing the sinful nature for what it is, exposing it, naming it in confession, naming it before God, that you be absolved, forgiven, restored, made whole.  The people who came to John for Baptism came “confessing their sins” (v. 5).  The two go together.  Confession is living in your Baptism.  To confess is to crucify the flesh.  To be absolved is to be raised from the dead. 
            And that is the whole point of John’s preaching a Baptism of repentance: The Holy Absolution.  The Forgiveness of sins in Christ.  That is the third and most important component of our preparation for Christmas.  Baptism is the delivery of the forgiveness of sins.  Repentance is the plea that the Father would forgive our sins for Jesus’ sake.  Jesus came at Christmas for no other reason than to win for us and deliver to us the forgiveness of sins.  He was born to die for our sins.  He was born to be the sacrifice of atonement.  He was born to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  If you know that, if you believe that, if you trust that, then His way is prepared. 
            What is extraordinary about all of this preparation is that it is not your doing.  It is God’s doing for you.  Baptism is not your doing.  It is God’s doing.  Most of you were baptized as infants before you could even answer the baptismal questions for yourself.  Your sponsors had to do it.  Even you who were baptized as older children or adults really had nothing to do with what happened at the font.  It was done to you, by God, by His Word, by His Promise, by His Name.  Repentance… well, we usually want to take credit for that.  That’s my part in the whole thing, we think.  But is it really?  Is it not the Holy Spirit convicting you of your sin before a righteous and holy God by the preaching of His Law, and directing you to your crucified and risen Lord Jesus for forgiveness of sins by the preaching of His Gospel?  I often admonish you from the pulpit to “Repent!”  We often say, “I repent,” when we realize our sin.  We speak of repentance as our action.  But if our language were more precise, we’d speak of being repented.  The Lord repents us.  It is His Spirit in us.  Repentance is His gift.  How could it be anything else since it is simply a return to His original baptismal gift of faith in Christ and the forgiveness of sins?  Repentance is not a preparation we accomplish any more than is our Baptism.  Rather, “Repentance is an admission that we can do nothing to receive rightly the Savior and that what we have done has made a thorough hash of things.”[1]  Preparation for Christmas is not about what we do.  It is about what Christ does for us. 
            “The true Advent preparation is a getting ready to receive, not a getting ready to do.”[2]  Christ is your Christmas Gift from God.  And in Christ your loving and heavenly Father graciously gives you the forgiveness of all your sins, along with righteousness and eternal life, peace that passes all understanding, love for your neighbor, hope, joy, and every good and gracious blessing that He pours out upon you.  You’ve done nothing to make this happen.  You’ve done nothing to earn it or deserve it.  It is not your doing at all.  It is God’s doing, in Christ, for you.  Advent is about recognizing how empty you are outside of Christ, and that being filled with Christ, you are filled with all good things.  Therefore Advent is about Christ filling you with Himself by virtue of His coming to you here in the place of your Baptism, where there is repentance and forgiveness going on, where He is filling your ears with His Word, and your mouths with His Body and Blood. 
            Decking the halls has its place at Christmas time, as does all of the other preparation and celebration that goes on this time of year.  But don’t get so bogged down in all of that that you actually miss Christmas, the Christ-Mass.  We make such a big fuss this time of year about keeping Christ in Christmas, and then we don’t take the time to go to Church.  We forget that keeping Christ in Christmas necessarily means keeping the Mass in Christmas.  The Lord’s Supper is where Jesus actually is, in the flesh, and Christmas is the celebration of His coming into the flesh for you.  Deck your ears and your mouths and your hearts and your souls with Christ this Christmas.  Prepare for that.  By receiving Christ.  Baptism.  Repentance.  Forgiveness of sins.  God Himself preparing you to receive even more of His gifts, His doing, His salvation, His Jesus.  “Prepare the way of the Lord.”  Jesus is coming.  “O Lord, how shall I meet You, how welcome You aright?” (LSB 334:1).  Simply by believing, by trusting, by receiving all that He comes to do.  He has done it all, beloved.  Having Him, you are prepared.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             



[1] The Rev. Scott Murray, “Christmas Preparation All Done,” Memorial Moment for 5 December 2014, http://www.mlchouston.org/filerequest/1726.html
[2] Ibid.

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