Advent 2 - Luke 3:1-14
God calls us to come to the wilderness repenting of our sins that we may bear fruits of repentance.
There is something about being in the wild that makes us humans believe we are getting closer to God. Pushing away the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The solitude. The silence. The call of the wild.
Being out in the middle of the wilderness. Nothing to bother you. Just you and God. Except for today the Advent lesson of John the Baptist we might assume the wilderness to be a place where we choose to meet God. I would like for you to consider why people like escaping to the wilderness because it is not only there that the cries from your boss to work more efficiently or your parents or your kids ask for your time, but really it is also the place that God does not speak. There is no condemnation for your sins. No call to change. I believe that we sinful humans believe that we are closer to God in the wilderness precisely because we are away from God’s accusing word. Or if we do take a Bible with us, we can think what we want about God’s word. We can be our own little church and have a god of our own choosing.
Now I’m not saying there’s no benefit to retreating to a silent place, even going out to find solitude, Jesus even did that. Jesus did that for an opportunity to rest and pray. That is good and right. We should do this. However, our text today presents us with a lesson concerning where God’s word is found and what that means for our lives.
The reason we hear from John the Baptist during Advent because we find him in the wilderness. A place of fasting. A place of losing the comforts of regular life. A place where we look afar and see the city where life is easy, a place where the people revel in the pleasures of their flesh, eating drinking being merry. We do not find John the Baptist in the city with all the pleasures the city offers.
We find John in a place where God’s people often find themselves. The OT with Moses the Exodus from Egypt, no water. No food. No luxuries. Adam and Eve banished from the Garden driven into the wilderness. Elijah fleeing Jezebel, reflecting on his failures and how there seemed to be no other believers. Churches were empty and Elijah said God just kill me now. The wilderness is a place of discipline. A place where God strips away all the comforts of life and it is a place of desperation. Jesus too, out into the wilderness and who did he find? Not Smokey the Bear but the devil. To fast, to be tempted but to finally find himself in prayer.
So you want to go out to the wilderness to meet God? You think you will find solitude? Today we hear what you will find, you will find John the Baptist. Well we might not find him today in person, but you can’t help when you are all alone, when things are quiet to reflect on your life. When we do this we should assess our life in regards to God’s standards. Do you get angry or lose your patience? Do you find it more satisfying to get a good deal on Christmas gifts than receiving the gifts of God’s forgiveness? Do you think your sins are no big deal? Just a little mistake…You know better than that because you’ve probable got sins that haunt you.
John the Baptist is a relief because he brings the truth to our wildernesses. He is a doctor who accurately diagnosis us. A park ranger who sees the fire and points it out. He preaches a God who is not satisfied with your sins. In the wilderness you do not find a God who accepts you as you are. The wilderness is fine and dandy when the trees are green there’s no storms but the wilderness can also be the most dangerous unpredictable place when it is on fire as we’ve seen in CA. When we venture into the wilderness of God’s law we need to prepare and that is the Advent lesson for us as John beckons us out to find him. John doesn’t say find solitude he says listen to him. God sends him to us to rightly teach us how to meet God.
John is the forerunner to Christ. As a forerunner he tells us how to prepare. He’s the scout leader making you double check your supply list. He is your dad asking if you have enough gas to get home. Your mom asking if you have clean underwear. Your grandma asking why you don’t have more food, here wait I’ll get a sandwich for you to take along, you’ll get hungry. John gives you what you need. First and foremost John says repent.
God directs us and all those people in Judea out to the wilderness. Leave your good deeds. Leave your possessions. Leave your family. Your friends. Your house, don’t worry about cleaning, leave it. Leave everything. It is like death. What will you take to the grave? That’s your packing list. Go. Go and listen.
And what does John say? You brood of vipers! What?!! That’s not very nice John. Matthew says John said this to the scribes and Pharisees. Luke leaves the target of the sermon open, meaning Luke wants you to hear it addressed to you. For if John preaches this to the well respected people of his day, those who were morally upright, the well to do, the folks who everyone wanted to be like. The highly respected, almost royalty, Luke says, “Where does this leave you?” If John addressed this to those who did not have faith but whose lives were admired by all the people because of their dedication to God’s law this leaves us the faithful no excuse for living sinful lives of neglecting God’s word and being lazy.
Out in the wilderness God is not silent on this day. The wilderness is roaring. The wilderness is God’s fiery wrath come to meet you dressed in camel hair clothes and a diet of locust and honey. 400 yrs the wilderness was silent but here in John the Baptist God’s word goes forth. God would not have his people be unprepared for his coming. So in preparing for Jesus John tells us to drop dead.
John says come to the Jordan river out into the wilderness, don’t prepare by gathering together the things that make you so prideful. This is one instance that God does direct his people to go into the wilderness but that is because that is where his preacher is. This is where God is present, leveling the mountains of your pride and filling the valleys of your despair over our shame. John brings the proud down and lifts the desperate up. Malachi says he is like a purifying fire. There is a fire in the wilderness a fire that is 0% contained. Johns preaching of God’s law burned away all that was not pure.
To those who were being refined John had a hydrant of God's mercy, a baptism of forgiveness. All the sins they committed burned way by the waters of God’s purifying promise in the Jordan water. Then what was the result?
John laid the groundwork for Jesus to bring his baptism a greater baptism because when Christ institutes baptism in Matthew 28 it is into the fully revealed name of father, son and holy spirit. The water is not tied to the Jordan nor a man John. Jesus gives a baptism that spans time and space and places us in him.
Because in Jesus the fire of God's wrath is fully contained. Jesus contains that forest fire of God’s wrath at our sin on the cross. Christ was driven out to the desert to be tempted and he did not fall. Christ takes all your shameful sins and gives you his glorious life. Christ’s whole life was not one where he withdrew for his own benefit but always for ours so we would have a savior. Christ was called out into the wilderness not because he was stressed or tired or just needed to recharge, Christ was driven to the wilderness to show his faithfulness to you. There he was alone, the wilderness of temptation, the forest fire of his cross and he was burned up for your sins, big sins, little sins and those that might haunt you. Your baptism was also a refining. A placing of you with Christ in his death and raising you with him as well. Out of the wilderness and into the oasis of God's mercy.
After John had baptized those at the Jordan with a baptism of repentance for forgiveness what did they do? What is the voice of faith? It is not how can I live a life of solitude, but what must I do? John says “Serve your neighbor where God has placed you faithfully.” John didn’t make them all prophets nor did he make them all preachers but he did tell them to go and sin no more. Be faithful where God has placed you. “What shall we do?” is the question of faith and one you should be asking yourself regularly. Notice John doesn’t tell them to quit their jobs, but to bear fruits of repentance. Let your life show evidence of faith. Even the vocation of soldier is blessed here in God’s word.
So return to God’s wilderness often. The place where you leave all your pride, the place you go carrying no supplies but bring your sins to confess. Here in God’s house is the wilderness for you now, the Jordan river the baptismal font. For it is here that his preacher is calling you to repent that you receive mercy in Christ. It is here he is preparing you for when he returns again to take away all the wildernesses all the loneliness all the sadness all the death and bring us into his glorious city come down from heaven.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Advent 1 - Luke 19:28-40
In our sin we treat Christ’s word like last years presents lose interest. Christ however is no throw away savior. He comes to us as a humble king to forgive our sins and assure us of life eternal.
In the last few years, our society has been called a throw away society. That we have come to such opulence and affluence that we have no reason to try and reuse things once we've used them. You as well as I have heard people gripe, "I had my first washing machine for 30 years and now appliances don't last 10. They break and it's cheaper to replace than repair." Or plastic grocery bags, food containers, disposable cameras. These things were not around many years before. Being a child of this era of throw away, I was completely dumbfounded when I ran into someone who washed ziploc bags to get multiple uses out of them! My mind was blown.
We want to be the first to use something. There is something to being the first to use an item. To break it in. New cars are one of these items. You know what they say, "There's nothing like the smell of a new car payment." I mean "there's nothing like the smell of a new car." It's true. Being the first. The first to visit a hotel, the first to ride an amusement park ride, the first to eat at the new restaurant, the first in line for Black Friday sales. There is a sort of regency involved with being first. You almost feel like royalty.
Today's Gospel reading has this sense in it also. We hear Jesus say, "…you will find a colt tied, hon which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. " Is Jesus the beginning of this throw away mentality? "A used donkey will not do. It has lost it's "new donkey" smell." No. Jesus is making a statement that perhaps passes us by if we don't slow down being too anxious with God's word. Instead of passing over this reading, which you've heard many times and might be tempted to think you can just use it, hear it and let it go like a BigMac wrapper. God's word is not like an appliance or electronic device that once we've used it is not as good.
When Jesus speaks of a colt, a donkey that no one has ever sat on he is indeed making a statement of royalty. This whole scene is one of regency and the coming of a king. When Israel consecrated and received a new king that king would come riding on a donkey. Similar to Ari Force one or the presidential limo. No one else has one like it. The king is coming to you. He is not elected but he comes for your benefit to protect and defend. Our OT reading from Jerimiah was God preparing his people for a special king.
Jeremiah prophesies that there will be a king who comes to rule God's people. Going back to the days of David, before God's people were torn in division between Israel and Judah. God says through Jeremiah, "Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah." God has made a promise to his people that their division will be healed. God's people will no longer be divided. There will not be a king in the North and South who is not able to join the people together. In this king will be unity again.
So who is this king? Who will be the first to really bring unity to God's people again? Luke begins to teach us about this king.
When you watch a good movie, one cinematography technique is to bring you to a very important event at the beginning of a movie. The event portrayed is very important but to the viewer the event doesn't look important. So the rest of the movie is about the background of the event that the movie began with. It would be like starting a movie of your life with your last days before going to heaven and then the director would go back and say why it was important that you spent your last days with God's word being spoken to you and Jesus' body and blood being given to you as you see the end of your earthly life coming.
This is what we see today in our Gospel. This is why, even though it is the beginning of our church year, we go to the end of Christ's life as he enters JErusalem during holy week. Why is it important that he comes to Jerusalem? Why is it that it is during the Passover days? Why does Jesus ask for a donkey that has not been sat upon? Why are the Pharisees angry at the disciples for worshipping Jesus?
The rest of our church calendar is meant to teach us these things and more. The church calendar isn't a throw away practice. We use it and keep using it because in ordering our lives by the life of Christ we are like the earth that rotates around the sun receiving it's light and warmth at the right times. Our life, if not daily, is a returning again and again to Christ to receive from him forgiveness. But this king seems like a throw away king when we begin to be tempted by the flashy new things our sinful flesh likes to chase after.
Jesus asks for a colt that has not been sat upon because this king comes to his people in a new way. It is a new way, but it is also a very old way. Like when you take a favorite recipe that the family has loved for many years and you make it better. A cover of an old song but you hesitatingly admit, "I like the new one better." Jesus comes on a colt like David and the kings of the OT did. The king came to the people on a donkey. Not a war horse but a donkey. The king isn't come to destroy the people and conquer them like a general on a warhorse in the battle. No Jesus comes as a king but a new king. A different king.
Jesus comes in a royal way but don’t be fooled into thinking everyone thought that way. I mean Jesus didn’t come as a worldly king, he even had to procure his own animal for transportation. Even the owners of the animal didn't offer the colt, they didn't know or care what was going on. And don’t think that everyone thought highly of this event. There were no other royalty there. It wasn’t the famous and rich that came out. Jesus came humbly and our world isn’t so impressed with humble kings. Jesus came to his people but it was only by faith that they saw who Jesus really was. A humble king. He has come to do battle but not the old way in conquering earthly kingdoms or people. So, since he is a king who has come to battle with? Where is his battlefield, who is his enemy?
The enemy is the devil and all who side with sin.
Jesus has not come to do battle with you. Even though you may have acted like an enemy of Christ, he has not come to destroy us. This is why he comes on a donkey. Donkeys are not for treading people down. They are beasts of burden. And so Jesus comes as a king to serve us. To give his life.
Now maybe you have treated God's word as a throw away. An old appliance that isn't useful for your everyday life. Perhaps you have considered the way of this king as an old appliance. Like an old record player that gets stuck playing the same song over and over. You have found in the world new things that seem better. Whatever your pleasure is this year was probably not what you were concerned with last year because the joys of this world are fleeting and not permanent. But what is? This king’s kingdom will never fall and his gifts will never expire. While we might tire of this king he never gets tired forgiving you and promising you he will not cast you out.
This king then also does something new again. You see the donkey was his coming to us, he comes humbly. This king though where is his battle? Where is he on a warhorse? It is on the cross. This king is victorious by doing a new thing. He is crucified for you. Even your sins of chasing the cares of the flesh and sinning against your fellow man. He comes to forgive you in real ways.
So it is no surprise that this king lays in a new tomb that has never seen death. Or better yet, death has not seen a king as this. A king whose reign does not end in death but it is his victory. The new, never sat upon colt brought this king to his people so that the new, never laid in tomb might bring us to him.
This is your king. He comes, he advents to us. And like that day he went into Jerusalem, you will not find this advent king among the well to do. This king comes among the faithful. He comes in humble means still. Not a colt, but in his word and sacraments. The means that he advents to us still does not sparkle in the eyes of the world. Bread, wine and water. The world does not lay a red carpet out for him. But you and I should with repentant hearts welcome Christ as he comes to us humbly still. He comes for us to lay our treasures aside that we may this season receive him rightly believing his words, he doesn’t throw you away but takes your sins and they are gone. So reuse him. Christ is no one use redeemer.