Saturday, December 5, 2009

Advent 2

God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy so that we may share His wisdom and become one with Him when He comes in glory, for He lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God for ever and ever. Amen

The person and activities of John the Baptist are part and parcel of the “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1) He is the Advent figure par excellence, serving as a paradigm of the church’s responsibility at the start of a new church year; namely, to concentrate on preparing the hearts and minds of its members for the approach of their Lord and Savior. We shall, therefore, celebrate this season of Advent with our ears attuned to Luke’s account of the public appearance of John as marking a signal moment in God’s dealings with us who are His people.

1. The setting for Christ’s coming.

A. Political institutions are decaying.

1. In 9 BC the political leaders of Asia Minor had issued a decree expressing their conviction that the great Augustus (Luke 2:1) had inaugurated a new ear of hope for all humanity. But Augustus was followed by Tiberius (3:1) who managed to ascend the throne by scheming and manipulation and soon turned into a madman. All five political figures named by Luke in 3:1 not only fix the moment of John’s prophetic activity but also remind us of the breakdown of Roman power. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—

2. We have begun a new church year amid the debris of many familiar political structures, on some which we have come to depend for a measure of stability and integrity. Yet some wonder if the world we have become accustomed to is coming apart at the seams. As we enter the month of December 2009 we have now been at war in Iraq longer then we were at war in Viet Nam.

B. Religious corruption is rampant.

1. Luke speaks of one high-priestly office but lists two names: Annas and Caiaphas. This is the evangelist’s way of indicating to what depths that office had fallen. Annas was able to get five of his sons as well as Caiaphas, his son-in-law, into an office established by God to be occupied by the successors of Aaron for the lifetime of each one. Annas it seems was the power broker who had much control within the temple and the Sanhedrin court.

2. We live in a day of brash blasphemy. Many have fallen prey to the occult, to various cults, to the worship of Satan, to Eastern religions of all kinds. Doctrinal disarray prevails almost everywhere in mainline Christian churches.

C. Yet, it is into such conditions of decay and darkness that God sends His prophetic Word. The Lord of the church asks us to take on the world as it is to prepare people for the coming of Jesus Christ. We are asked to serve as a light to a darkened world.

1. In the days of John there was a yearning to liberation. The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ. (vs.15)

2. Many sheep “look up but are not fed.” They need to hear the prophetic Word.

2. Its significance.

A. It is an example of recapitulation.
1. As the old Israel was turned into God’s special people by water (Red Sea), in the desert, and by the Voice from Mt. Sinai, so John was called into the desert as the prophetic voice to baptize with water.

2. Advent serves to remind us that the church (as now the new Israel) lives, as it were, in a desert, sustained by water and the voice of prophet and apostle. For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. (1 Corinthians 10:1-6)

B. It is a call to repentance.

1. John calls on Jews to repent even though by descent they were children of Abraham.
a. “Repentance” was a familiar term in that day, but the teachers put it like this: “Repent; then the kingdom of God will come.”
b. John turned the formula around. John said, “Repent; for the kingdom of God is upon you.” (Matthew 3:2)

2. We who are God’s children are to repent because God, in Baptism, has appropriated to us the forgiveness of sins.

C. It is a call to administer the Sacrament of Holy Baptism.

1. John baptized for the remission of sins. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:3)

2. Christian baptism has even greater significance; it takes us back into the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. (Romans 6:3-5).

3. By Baptism we become members of Christ’s body, which is the church.
For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. (1 Corinthians 12:13)

3. The Sequel.

A. “Fruits” worthy of repentance are called for. Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham (Luke 3:8).

1. John spoke in harsh words of judgment over the Israel of his day But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3:7-8) and uttered words of promising salvation. And all mankind will see God’s salvation (Luke 3:6)

2. In the same way Advent invites us to examine ourselves in light of God’s Law so that we may fully understand the measure of His grace.

B. By the Spirit’s power, changes take place in people’s lives.

1. John’s proclamation changes the life-style of many persons so radically that his work could be likened to leveling the mountains (of pride) and filling in the valleys (of humility). The words of Isaiah (40:3-5) were fulfilled in John as the voice in the desert.

2. The church’s Advent message aims to move us to bring forth more bountifully then ever what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22)

What today’s Gospel tells us of God’s signal moment in history, the season of Advent addresses to us in terms of our personal life with God. Before our baptism we belonged to the realm of darkness. Now we belong to the kingdom of light. Amid the growing darkness of the moment in which we live, let us, like John, testify to the true Light that came into this world to “enlighten every man” (John 1:9)

Schnorr von Carolsfeld, woodcuts © WELS Permission to use these copyrighted items is limited to personal and congregational use.

No comments: