Second Sunday in Advent
Isaiah 40 - A voice cries:[b] “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Dear Friends in Christ,
We are in the second of a four week Advent series, Comfort and Joy. Peace of Christ / Pardon of Christ / Presence of Christ / Power of Christ. Last weekend, we learned what the peace of Jesus Christ is not- an absence of violence, an absence of noise – and what it is in fact – the presence of God’s comfort. On Wednesday, we learned what that peace of Christ does – namely that it actively infuses our relationships and conversations and daily activities with the very strength of God and the gladness that comes in knowing and being known by Christ. Today, we focus on what it means to have the pardon of Christ and how to get hold of and treasure that pardon. (Draw attention to bulletin Family Conversation page). Wednesday, in Part II, we’ll focus on what that divine pardon does as it goes out into our homes and work places.
A woman actively engaged in the wrong mission. No doubt you have heard the old adage, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” While there may be a bit of truth in that old saying, anyone who has felt the stinging barb of criticism knows that words can deeply wound. James Dobson quotes Lewis Yablonsky, the author of Fathers and Sons, as a son who had observed the effect his mother’s negative comments had on his own father. At the dinner table, Lewis’ mother would say things like, “Look at your father! His shoulders are bent down; he’s a failure. He doesn’t have the courage to get a better job or make more money. He’s a beaten man.” The author writes that his father never defended himself. He just kept staring at his plate. That lady was on a mission, to be sure, but it was the wrong mission. This morning, I have a question for all of you wives out there, and husbands, and single folks, and no matter what station of life you are in and no matter what chapter of life you are in, what is your mission in life? Is it the mission of God, which is to make disciples for Jesus Christ, or is it something other than or less than that?
In our text for today, we hear the prophet Isaiah announcing the good news that their God was on a mission to rescue them from Babylonian captivity. They were to remember the good news of the past and always to be getting ready for the good news to be coming in their future. They were to remember getting rescued from 450 years of Egyptian slavery and to anticipate getting rescued from Babylonian oppression in the near future. They were to never forget that the sins of their parents and grandparents had been pardoned and to rejoice that God had devised a plan to pardon their iniquities, as well.
The second “P” in our four part series is pardon. The pardon of Christ has come and is coming to us, and we are to be (preparing for it) at the same time. Today we ask the good Lutheran question what does this mean? And on Wednesday we ask another good Lutheran question, how is this done? What does this mean, in other words what does it mean to have the pardon of Christ and how do we get it and what does it mean to hold onto and treasure and enjoy the forgiveness of sins in this season of Advent?
Advent means to come. Christ came, He continues to come, and He is coming again. As you well know, He came the first time as a seemingly helpless baby in a manger, He comes to us this very day in the words of absolution and in the preaching of His Word and in the bread and the wine of the Supper, and He will come one day soon as a thief in the night. What does it mean that your sins and mine have been pardoned in the courtroom of the Most High God? It means that God has found a way to declare guilty people not guilty. You husbands who have fallen way short of cherishing your wives in the way that Christ has cherished and nourished His bride the Church, I say to you with a tender voice – your sins are pardoned. You wives who have spent all kinds of effort berating and insulting and cutting down your men, I say to you with a gentle word that your sins are pardoned. You who are single or retired or widowed who have stumbled into habits of stubbornness or selfishness or self-righteousness or laziness or apathy or busyness or you fill in the blank, I say to you with great joy, your warfare is ended and your iniquity is pardoned. Advent Lesson #1 today, in every one of our days, we are to be getting ready to receive the pardon of Christ. We do that by making straight in the desert a highway for our God, by lifting up the valleys and making low the mountains and by smoothing out the rough edges. Or to say it another way, by repenting. Which brings us to our second and final lesson this morning.
To make the Biblical case for What (repentance) isn’t and what it is. Our Catechism says it this way. Repentant believers are those who are sorry for their sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ…..And that good works, which are the fruits of repentance, are bound to follow. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses is “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, Repent ye! He makes clear that the whole life of His believers is to be a constant or unending repentance.”
Three truths I would like to lay before you today on the subject of repentance. First, it doesn’t listen to the voices of (false peace), but to the voice of one crying in the wilderness. The voice of false peace would say that if you ignore problem situations in life, they will usually go away. The voice of John the Baptism cries out for you to stop making excuses for your messed up circumstances and get down on your knees and ask for help. The voice of false peace will tell you that you a better sinner than average, the voice of the prophets will tell you that you are chief of sinners. The voice of false peace will tell you that you’re pretty much ok in life, the voice of Isaiah would cry out to you today that you have done much that is wrong and left undone much that right.
Secondly, the repentant heart doesn’t ask what’s wrong with other people, but rather what’s wrong with (me). Have you ever noticed how much our conversations dwell on what’s wrong with other people? It doesn’t ask what’s wrong with the rioters and looters in Ferguson, Missouri and New York City. It asks what’s wrong with me and why am I so quick to judge and slow to pray. It doesn’t ask what’s wrong with the Minnesota High School League and their ruling on transgender athletes, but rather what’s wrong with me and why am I so full of myself and what are my bad habits these days? Repentance doesn’t ask what’s wrong with everybody else for getting Christmas wrong, but rather what are ways in which me and my household are getting off track in this season of comfort and joy?
Third, the repentant heart doesn’t say that “I’m sorry if I offended you,” but rather “I’m sorry that I have offended (God and others).” If you have been following the Ferguson Missouri situation, then you may know that several St. Louis Rams players showed solidarity with the family of Michael Brown by raising their hands during pre-game festivities. The next day, a county police chief indicated that an Rams official had apologized for the actions of those five players. Shortly after that, that official denied in an email that he had apologized. He clarified that he had “expressed regret for any perceived disrespect of law enforcement.”
The repentant heart doesn’t say “I’m sorry if I offended you, but rather I’m sorry that I have offended God and others.” It doesn’t say that you should not have taken offense, but rather I am so sorry for giving offense. It doesn’t say that I could probably do better, but rather this day I will aim for perfection. It doesn’t say that this world would be a lot better place if other people would shape up, but rather, I need to shape up. It doesn’t say, “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing in life or what direction I should be traveling, but rather that my Savior loves me so very much and I intend to spend my days thanking and praising, serving and obeying Him – whatever that takes, and wherever that leads. People who know who they are and why they are.
People engaged in the right mission: The kingdom of God is like a wife with a new heart and a burning desire to encourage her husband into being all that he can be. It’s like a husband who is rejoicing in his wife’s forgiveness and is on a mission to pass along the same Christmas comfort and joy his grandparents passed along to his parents. More and more they are finding their church to be like a city of lights set on a hill where darkness is having a hard time hiding and where angry hearts are letting go of their grudges. Less and less are people asking what is the matter with everybody else and more and more the glory of the Lord is being revealed to them. Together they are seeing Jesus and realizing that life doesn’t get any better than that. Amen.
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