Second Sunday of Advent 2015
Advent is the busy season of the church year.
We even have a collect that prays to God that our hearts don’t become overcharged with the busyness of the season.
So you are busy, and I am busy, everyone’s busy, even the baptizer is.
But just like you and just like me, what the baptizer would really like is a quiet Christmas.
After all, he is a prophet, and so quiet comes naturally to him. He lives in the wilderness with the scrub and the sand and the wild animals. Where the only other voice is the voice of god himself.
But like you and like me he feels the press of the season. He feels the press of God’s holiness and also the press of Israel’s unholiness. So much so that he raises his voice among the Advent crowds, with a sermon that many of them and perhaps many of you would rather not hear.
Repent. Be baptized. Because the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Hardly anybody tells anybody to repent anymore. It is just not what people want to hear.
It’s the reason that many churches no longer have a body on the cross, and no longer begin service with Confession & Absolution. It is just not popular.
So if John wants a quiet Christmas, then why ask for trouble? The truth is, as a prophet, John cannot avoid it. There is a very literal reading of Luke chapter 3, verse 2 that goes like this: not necessarily “The Word of God came to John in the wilderness,” but “The Word of God happened to John.” And when the Word of God happens to a person, every last thing in life and in death is different.
I know that for you and for me, the sermon of John the Baptizer can be off-putting. Vipers and wrath, and don’t begin to say to yorselves that you are sons of Abraham. Do not even begin to say to yourselves that you are in the Church.
It’s stones and axe, and root and tree and chop fire. That’s a difficult sermon for anyone to hear, especially for we who are in the church. But you might consider the alternative. The only thing worse than that is a false silence. Pretending that everything is ok, even when it is not.
It’s been said that the first rule of a dysfunctional family is this: never say what’s on your mind. And John’s world was certainly dysfunctional. Caesar was an imperialist. Pilot was a thug. King Herod was a tyrant, and Caiaphas the high priest was both a liar and a cheat.
And so faithful folks like Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptizer; and also Joseph and the blessed Virgin Mother, were always in danger of being crushed underfoot. And none of that was going to fix itself, not then and not now.
We’ve all been in situations like this – where we would rather look the other way. Where we would rather ignore our troubles and our sins, hoping that they would just go away. But as you all know, they do not just go away. They cannot. Because evil is a real, powerful, enduring thing.
Think of it this way. When you touch evil. You give evil incarnation. You give evil your own flesh and blood. You give evil life, and once you have done that – once you and I have touched evil – our sins stay around to punish us until they are undone.
It is true that the wages of sin is death, and that can ruin any hope we’ve had for a quiet Christmas. It was C.S. Lewis who said that most Christians are too easily satisfied. You and I as Christians are often too willing to settle – too willing to look the other way – too willing to live in some sort of functional detant with our sins and the sins of others.
Rather than admitting, when it comes to sin, there cannot be resurrection unless there is death. And there cannot be new unless the old has been destroyed.
You and I cannot have a real, honest, good, quiet life until we repent, and things change, and Jesus makes us whole again. Now, all of that said, what are the chances you and I could have a quiet Christmas?
Pretty good, actually. As it turns out, John the Baptizer has a softer side. The Baptizer brings change, which scares a lot of us, and the penalty for not changing is to remain the way you are. So if you and I insist on vipers and wrath, then that is what we will get, BUT you certainly must have noticed in the Gospel for today, that when these people hear John speak, they don’t run away, but play around in the water. Certainly you can see that they have heard this word:
“Repent and be baptized, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” as a Gospel word, a forgiving word, an honest word, a life-giving word. As the words they’ve always wanted to hear, and for so long have been waiting, as the chance to have their sins undone.
If they are in the water, then they have heard the word as forgiveness, as fix, as life, as salvation, as wrongs being made right. And we can say of them as well, the Word of God has happened to them.
And now, this Advent, if it would only happen to you and to me and to everyone else we know. If it could happen to us at Christmas, or even sooner, if it could happen in this second week of Advent, or sooner still, if it could happen at this Holy Eucharist today.
And of course it does, because there Christ is present with His life-giving Flesh. When Christ comes, everything changes. When Christ comes, wrongs are made right. And when you leave today, touched by the Flesh of Christ, your life changes.
John the Baptizer is very clear. What should you do? What should we do? John says, avoid evil and live in mercy. Give your extra coat to somebody who is cold. Give your extra food to somebody who is hungry. Be honest at work. Don’t lie. Don’t cheat. Don’t steal. And if you are a person with gravitas, if you have some authority, don’t muscle people around. Be content with what you’ve got.
All of which sounds suspiciously like, our coat drive, and the food pantry, and mite boxes. And all the rest of the good stuff you do. Good. God bless you. You’re forgiven. Go in peace. Serve the Lord. It’s the Christmas season. More please.
As you go out today, know that when you do your best, your best still needs to be forgiven. As you go out today, know that you are well-loved, and well-blessed, and well-used. And know today that someday, Eden will come. But until then, know that God does His work through you. That you have been forgiven, and the possibility of a quiet and blessed Christmas has been made yours already, here in Christ, as Luther says, “On the altar, on the cross, and in the arms of Mary.”
*Special thanks and credit belong to my friend and mentor, Rev. Dr. Scott Bruzek of St. John Lutheran Church – Wheaton, IL