Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Second Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent (C)

December 6, 2015
Text: Luke 3:1-20

            The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Luke 3:4; ESV; Cf. Is. 40:3).  St. John the Baptist is the voice.  That is his office and divine calling.  He proclaims as it has been given him by God.  He prepares the way of the Lord, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3).  God Himself is present in this proclamation and baptism.  He stirs up our hearts for this very thing, that we make ready the way of His only-begotten Son by repenting of our sins and receiving His forgiveness and salvation as He comes to us.  Repentance and forgiveness.  This is the pattern of the Christian life.  This is the life of the Baptized, or better, this is the daily death and resurrection of those baptized into Christ.  And this is how we prepare to meet the Lord Jesus in His coming to us.  This is how we prepare for Christmas.  This is how we prepare for preaching and the Sacrament.  This is how we prepare for the Lord’s coming again in glory.  We examine ourselves, repent of our sins, and trust that Christ’s coming is for us.  Advent means “coming,” and it is a season of preparation to receive the One who comes.  St. John was beheaded centuries ago, but still he preaches.  Still his voice cries out in the wilderness of this world full of unbelief and hatred and violence and death: Repent and believe the Good News!  Jesus is coming.  He is coming for you, to forgive your sins and raise you to life.  Prepare the way of the Lord!
            But what is repentance?  Our Confessions teach us that there are two components of repentance: Contrition and faith.  “We say that contrition is the true terror of conscience, which feels that God is angry with sin and grieves that it has sinned.  This contrition takes place when sins are condemned by God’s Word.  The sum of the preaching of the Gospel is this: to convict of sin; to offer for Christ’s sake the forgiveness of sins and righteousness,  the Holy Spirit, and eternal life; and that as reborn people we should do good works” (Apol. XIIA [V]: 29; McCain, p. 161).  So, in preaching, you look into the mirror of God’s Law.  You consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments.  You ask yourself where you have fallen short.  And the Law convicts you.  You have broken the Law at every turn.  The Law accuses you, tries you, finds you guilty, and sentences you to death.  Christian preaching would be gloomy business if our righteous God left it at that.  And make no mistake, this is a vital component of Christian preaching.  For you must know your sins if you are to know your need for the Savior.  You must be good and dead if Christ is to raise you to new life by His Spirit.  Repentance says to the Savior, “I am a sinner.  I am dead.  I have rebelled against the God who gives me life, and hated Him.  I have despised my neighbor.  I have worshipped myself.  And I cannot rescue myself from this wretchedness.  Save me, O Jesus, for apart from you I am a rotting corpse.”  This is the confession to which the preaching of God’s holy Law brings you.  And Jesus hears your confession, and responds with the voice of your pastor, “I forgive you all your sins in the Name of the Father, and of the Son +, and of the Holy Spirit.”  “Rejoice, dear sinner.  What you have not done, I have done for you.  I have filled in the valleys, all that is lacking.  And all your sin and wretchedness and death I have taken into Myself.  It is no longer yours.  It belongs to Me.  And I have put it to death in My flesh on the cross.  I have leveled those hills.  I have straightened what was bent.  Depart in peace.  You are free.”  Your pastor is the voice in this wilderness sent to proclaim to you a Baptism of repentance and the forgiveness of sins.  And this preaching of the Gospel, that all your sins are forgiven in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, creates faith.  That is what the Spirit does in the Gospel.  He gives you faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and salvation.
            So you repent by confessing your sins and hearing and trusting the Absolution Jesus speaks to you.  The goal of repentance is always that you hear and believe the forgiveness of sins that is already yours in Jesus.  Then, our Confessions say, “If anyone desires to add a third [component of repentance]—fruit worthy of repentance, that is, a change of the entire life and character for the better—we will not oppose it” (Apol. XIIA [V]: 28).  That is to say, when you believe in Christ and the forgiveness of sins which He won for you and freely gives to you apart from your works, you begin to do good works.  You fail, of course, and you repent of that failure and you are forgiven for that failure and you believe that forgiveness so you begin again to do good works.  You don’t do good works because the Law demands them.  The Law can neither command nor accuse you in Christ.  You do good works because you love God and you love your neighbor, and you know that, while God doesn’t need your good works, your neighbor does.  And you don’t have to guess at what these good works are.  They are given you to do in your various vocations.  Husbands and wives are to live together in love and fidelity ‘til death do them part.  Fathers are to love and provide for and protect their children.  Mothers are to nurture and to teach and to care for their children.  Citizens are to pay taxes and respect their leaders and vote and serve.  Workers are to do their work diligently, and employers are to give just wages and value their employees.  St. John preaches this very thing.  In response to John’s preaching, the people ask, “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10).  John tells them to be generous.  Clothe the naked and feed the hungry.  That’s what you do.  And then he gets specific to the vocations represented.  What are tax collectors to do?  Stop gouging people.  Don’t collect more than you are authorized (v. 13).  What about soldiers?  What are they to do?  Stop bullying people.  Don’t falsely accuse people to extort money from them.  Be content with your wages (v. 14).  And now you get the concept.  What are your vocations?  To what offices has God called you?  Within those offices, those vocations, you are to love your neighbor as yourself.  Will you fall short?  Of course you will.  But you love with the love that Jesus Christ has already bestowed upon you, the love that forgives your sins and your failures to love.  One of my favorite preachers put it this way: “This is the constant cycle and life of the Christian… Repent and rejoice and repeat. Love your neighbor and fail and be loved by Christ and then love your neighbor and fail and be loved by Christ and again and again and again”[1]  Christ loves your neighbor for you.  Christ loves your neighbor through you.  Christ loves you in spite of your failure to love your neighbor.  Christ’s love for you enables you to love your neighbor.  It is all Christ.
            And that is why St. John always points you away from himself and to Christ.  John is all about Christ.  There in the wilderness he bids you “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Messianic hopes ran high in John’s day.  Many speculated whether he might just be the Christ.  But John is not ashamed to yield the position of honor.  The preacher must never get in the way of his preaching.  The preacher must decrease.  Christ must increase.  So John answers the question on everybody’s mind: “I baptize you with water, but 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” (Luke 3:16).  It is Jesus for whom you are waiting.  It is Jesus who comes to save you.  He comes with a Baptism that far surpasses John’s.  For His Baptism kills you and raises you to new life.  It drowns you in the water and raises you up in the Spirit.  It makes His death and resurrection your own.  In other words, it repents you.  It bestows contrition and faith.  By it you live. 
            Because He lives.  He died in payment of your sins.  He is risen and lives and reigns for you.  And He is coming again.  Advent is about preparing for that by living in it.  You come to Church because coming to Church is living in the coming of the Lord.  It is living in the reality of His coming in the flesh to be your Savior.  It is living in the reality that He will come again to judge the living and the dead and give you eternal life.  It is living in His coming to you now in Word and Supper.  This fallen world is a barren wilderness of emptiness and death.  What there is of joy in it is from the Lord.  Because He comes.  But there is more than the joys of this world.  Joy is complete when you know Jesus comes for you.  And so you pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.        



[1] The Rev. David H. Petersen, God with Us: Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany Sermons (Fort Wayne: Emmanuel Press, 2014) p. 22.

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