Sermon for the Second Sunday in Advent
December 9, 2018
A Kingdom Prepared
Sometimes it’s hard to imagine how anybody didn’t understand that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in the Scriptures. His birth was announced by the angels and His ministry heralded by John the Baptizer. But then again, who wants to believe a wild looking man living on the edge of civilization? To many, I suppose, it seemed like a bunch of nonsense just like many enlightened people today view those who speak of Jesus their Lord and Savior. It would seem that God’s anointed would have a more comely entourage, dignified and better connected with the power moguls of the day.
Luke would fit the bill of herald a little better. A physician and well educated man, civilized and respected. But as the kingdom that would be established is different than any other kingdom, so too, those that God sent to announce the coming kingdom and its King were different than what mankind would expect. Luke, however, in recording the events of Jesus’ life spends some time here comparing kingdoms. He lists Tiberius, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, and Caiaphas. It does fix the time very well. Anybody living at the time would easily have been familiar enough with each of these rulers to have grasped the reference time just as we, today, could put a time reference on George H W Bush’s presidency.
I would say that Luke was doing more than simply putting a time stamp on the events as he listed the kings of the earth. He was setting the stage for the message that was being preached by John. He was listing the rulers from Caesar to the regional kings and governors and tetrarchs, including the religious rules of the high priest as a point of comparison to the King and the kingdom that was being established by the word of God coming to and being preached by John. The names of earthly kings are recorded and the events of the world are given in reference to those reigns but John was announcing the reign of a King by whose reign all the world would set their calendars and mark the events of their lives. He was heralding the establishment of a coming kingdom that would not be like these others and that would have no end.
Through his preaching, the way of the Lord would be prepared. Hearts would be made ready to receive their King. Those beaten down by life and suffering under all kinds of malady and calamity would be raised up in dignity. All who looked to themselves and no other, the self-righteous, the self-reliant, the ego-filled, would be brought low and made aware of their need. All who follow their own compass, disregarding the edicts of God’s Law and natural law would be made straight and leveled out.
He could have been preaching to us in the second year of Trump’s presidency, during the time of Macron, Putin, Xi, and Francis. In fact, he is. His message of repentance then is the same message today as it has been for the Church throughout time. The establishment of this kingdom is not accomplished through snarky tweets, public policy, military aggression, internal suppression, or papal bull. It comes as hearts are prepared through the preaching of repentance.
John obviously didn’t attend a very good leadership school. Addressing one’s audience as a “brood of vipers,” isn’t a good way to start off a sermon. It is not a good way for him to get the crowds on his side. But he does set the precedent for preachers even today that truth is valued above likeability. Preaching repentance with full force is more important than gaining a high favorability rating by the congregation.
We might call John a fire and brimstone preacher as he is portrayed. He spoke with an immediacy, as if judgment day were coming tomorrow. But is that not the same throughout the Scriptures. “For today is the day of salvation.” Repentance cannot be put off for who knows what tomorrow will bring. It is of utmost importance that John’s voice be heard and that those listening heed his words. It is not some future date that the axe would be laid to the root of the trees bearing no fruit. It is even now. There was no time to waste. There is no time to waste. No matter how short the time, John lays the groundwork for preaching and the pattern for the Christian life even today: Repent and believe and produce good fruit in keeping with that repentance.
The entrance way or the gate to this kingdom was and is by the stirring of hearts through preaching that leads to Baptism. Just as we prayed in the Collect today that our hearts would be stirred and made ready for the only-begotten Son, that our sin would be exposed to us so that we would repent and turn away from those unrighteous deeds.
The baptism with which John baptized was a sign of their repentance even as it was a means for forgiving their sins. Holy Baptism is also a sign of repentance for us as it is a cleansing from sin as it unites us to Christ by His Baptism. It is an admission of guilt before God, of not living as one aught and not producing the fruit that a tree in God’s orchard should. It is an outward sign that the inward plain is being made level and that the heart is prepared for its King. While the action is done once, the remembrance of it is continual and its repeated effect is to be embraced. It is the beginning of the Christian life and the spring from which the Christian is always living. It is the place to which we return every time we repent, confessing our sins and embracing God’s forgiveness in His Son. Repentance leads to Baptism as the assurance of God’s fatherly embrace and the source of a life lived by faith.
Because this kingdom comes in such an unlikely and unusual way, faith is necessary to see it. Faith grabs hold of the promise given and the kingdom painted by the words of the preacher. John does something unheard of in baptizing the crowds, yet by their faith in believing his preaching, they receive the very forgiveness promised and inclusion in a kingdom unseen, even as you are.
And there is a necessary and natural result of this repentance and forgiveness. The fruits are not the precursor or the merit by which forgiveness comes but it is the fruit that follows repentance and forgiveness. Even the fruit is inconspicuous. It is what we would expect of all people that they would be honest and forthright in their callings; not cheating or stealing or being greedy. It sounds simple but the heart of man that has collude with the devil cannot do so apart from God’s grace of forgiveness.
God has stirred our hearts and made ready the way of His Son by the preaching of His Word. May it be received well by all of us that He may rule over us and that we, as His subjects, would serve Him and our neighbor in love and with pure minds.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.