What Are We Really Preparing For 12-13-15

In this sermon, based on Luke 3:7-18, I explore the theme of Advent, preparing for the coming Messiah. John the Baptist plays a central role in this part of Jesus’ story, yet his message is quite blunt. I contrast the old with the new that comes with Christ.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

I’m going to start things off with a little bit of an advertisement today. Tuesdays at 7pm…our ongoing study of The Story…a Bible study in which we are discussing the overarching narrative of the Bible from start to finish. Lively discussion ensues…and you’re all invited.

One of the main points that we’ve been discussing in this study since beginning last summer as been the ongoing activity of God behind the scenes…asking the question of how the particular chapter highlights God’s greater work in the grand scheme of things…now sometimes its pretty obvious…chapter 1 for instance…the story of creation from the first couple chapters of Genesis…what’s God up to there? Well, making…everything…kind of a no brainer.

But on the flip side…sometimes we have to work a little harder to try and figure out just what God is up to…because its not nearly as obvious as the first chapter…and this week, was one of those times. (pause) This week we studied the story of Esther…a young Jewish girl living life within the great Persian empire…and she’s picked from obscurity…wins the favor of the king and becomes the new queen…and along the way she manages to foil a plot to annihilate the Jewish people…it’s a wonderful story…and our discussion was great…but one interesting fact came up. Nowhere within the Old Testament book of Esther…not even once…do we hear about God…which admittedly seems a little strange when we consider that the Bible as a whole is the word of God, and is aimed at revealing truth of what God is up to in the world to us…but its true…the book of Esther is silent when it comes to God. (pause)
Now I bring this up because there’s a similar theme in today’s gospel lesson…the gospel’s, naturally, are New Testament books…and the gospels more than any other books, are certainly aimed at Jesus…the son of God…God in human form…walking and dwelling among us. (pause)

But…in today’s lesson…we see one of the very few times when Jesus is neither present…nor is he named…The closest we get to hearing about Jesus is a few comments regarding the coming Messiah. (pause) Now how often does that actually happen? That we have a gospel lesson that fails to feature Jesus? Its pretty rare…but the main reason behind it today is the season that we find ourselves in…Advent.

Now, you’ve heard me talk about this before….but Advent is considered the season of preparation…as the world awaits the coming Messiah…something that we’ll celebrate together in just a couple weeks’ time at Christmas as Jesus enters into our reality, yet again…as a helpless baby. (pause) But we aren’t there yet are we?

And so, here at the half way point of this 4 week season of preparation, we find a gospel lesson that doesn’t feature Jesus…but rather…another familiar figure…John the Baptist. (pause) Now John is an interesting individual…and he shares in a pretty rare distinction…being one of the few individuals that actually shows up in all 4 gospels…he’s not one of course, but there aren’t many…and because of this distinction, we recognize just how important of a figure he really was…and I think most of us do. We know that he’s the precursor to Christ…we know that he was the voice crying in the wilderness…his name is synonymous with the idea of baptism…

Maybe, if you’re like me, you hear the name John that Baptist and you picture some hairy wildman with a huge bush beard and afro splashing around in a river and yelling at everyone…that’s the image that’s in my head anytime I hear about him…and for the most part, that’s a pretty accurate image to hold…because John’s part of the overarching gospel of Jesus Christ is pretty brief…mostly limited to this one story right here towards the beginning…with only a few brief references that pop up here and there throughout the rest of the gospels.

But as we think about our normal notions of John…not to mention listening to his rather blunt message for those who have come out to listen to him…doesn’t it seem to be kind of one note? (pause) Think about it…I say John the Baptist and ask you what his message it…and I’m guessing most of you think “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!!!! WHO WARNED YOU ABOUT THE WRATH TO COME?” (pause) Sound about right?

I thought a lot about that this week…and kind of chuckled to myself as I realized that this one passage culminates in the single sermon that I get to preach this year during Advent…we have this one passage to help us get ready for the coming Messiah…and when we hear John’s words…it sort of resonates as the same old same old. (pause)

Think about everything you know about John…because it seems…at first glance anyway…that’s he’s really not broadcasting much that’s new. (pause) First off…he’s a prophet…the first one that’s popped up in the Holy Land for about 4 centuries…so the word of God has been pretty quiet for awhile…but the first thing this wilderness prophet rattles off…is a call to repentance…because wrath is coming…and if we’ve learned one thing trekking through the Old Testament in our Bible Study its that the word of the Lord tends to call the people to repent or face God’s wrath quite a bit.

But what else…what about the notion of Baptism…because John was doing that too…obviously right, just look at his name…but don’t be fooled. Even though we tend to think of Baptism as a fairly new innovation…something that came along with the rise of Christianity, its actually a lot older than that…Jewish people practice baptism…particularly when a foreigner would join the Jewish culture…and they would be baptized to cleanse themselves of all that which is ungodly…and so…this baptism that John practiced…was nothing new either.

So then, what about his interactions with the people…those who ask him “What should we do?” The crowds, and tax collectors, and the soldiers…at this point John gets into some life application that seems like kind of no-brainer…if you’ve got more than you need…share it with someone who doesn’t. Treat one another fairly…don’t lie…and be satisfied with what you earn…sounds pretty “golden rule-ish” doesn’t it…and it reflects the expected culture of the Jewish people…who’s lives centered around hospitality and the expectation of treating one another fairly….truly the message of John seems like nothing new does it?

And yet as we hear it…and we hear John screaming out at the brood of vipers who are only there to save their own skin…and his predictions that one is coming who is going to sort everything out…separating the good from the bad…the grain from the chaff…doesn’t it all sound…so…judgmental…so accusatory…so downright negative? (pause)

And yet…this seems to be exactly the message that the people expect…so much so, that they start to ask if John might just be the long awaited Messiah…the one who would usher in God’s blessed kingdom and throw out all that which oppresses God’s people. (pause) Crazy huh? That this, was their expectation…that the messiah would bring the same old judgmental, divisive story? (pause)

But here’s the thing…if John could make only one point, its this…he knows who he is…and he knows who he…isn’t…and he is very direct in pointing out the difference between himself and the coming Messiah. (pause)
I baptize with water…he will baptize with the holy spirit and fire…I am a lowly servant…not even worthy to untie his sandals…but HE…is more powerful that I am… (pause) Now we hear all this and instantly start thinking about Jesus don’t we…as well we should…but I think what we tend to miss about all this is just what John’s talking about when he references the power of the coming Messiah.

We hear John’s words of wrath and repentance…of separation and judgement of gathering the grain and burning the chaff…and if you’re anything like me you hear…DIVISION…that the coming Messiah will one day separate the evil people from the good people.

But here’s the thing…have you ever really known a person who was completely evil…or on the flip side someone who was completely good? (pause) Sure we’ve had some pretty decent examples on both sides of the coin…but I’m pretty sure even the worst of the worst probably had good intentions…and even the most saintly still harbored dark thoughts in their minds.

And that’s all because of the presence of sin and darkness in our lives…it has permeated us so deeply…into the very depths of our existence…and that’s why each and every one of us feels the effects of sin in our lives…and just being a person who professes faith in Christ…or a person who claims the promises of our baptism…it isn’t enough to eliminate the darkness that still resides within each of us.

We can’t separate the good from the bad and maybe just maybe, when we hear these words from John they seem so confrontational…so judgmental because when we are honest with ourselves we the darkness within us and can’t help but expect to be the evil chaff that gets thrown into the fire…and news flash…if you happen to take a look and only see the good stuff and fully expect to be gathered into the barn…well guess what…pride my friend…you just earned yourself the fire…that’s how deep this goes and there is NOTHING we can do about it.

But as John tells us…there is one who is coming…one who is MORE powerful…MORE able than any of us…Because God is coming…and God, who exists in ways far beyond our ability to understand or comprehend IS ABLE, to somehow, someway separate that which evil from that which God claims as good, from within each of us as individuals.

We are each made in the image of God, something that God called VERY GOOD…but likewise the power of sin has settled within each of us…but what if…maybe, just maybe, what John is talking about here…is the possibility that we have a God who lived this life…who came into this reality…then died and rose again to overcome the power of sin and death and somehow, someway, holds the power to separate them out from within the individual.

Isn’t that good news? That the savior of the world…who will enter into our reality at Christmas…just a couple weeks from now…did so in order to take away that from within YOU…that separate you from God…so that the aspect of YOU that God calls VERY GOOD…will remain to be with him forever. Isn’t that the best news in the world? (pause)

Now what if I told you that there are some out there who have never heard it? That there are some out there who think of the gospel and only hear the old judgmental accusation without understanding the love that God holds for us…that Christ came not to divide the good people from the bad people…but to redeem that which is good within each of us…and that this gift…this promise is for them too. (pause)

Soon…very soon, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ…the messiah who is coming into the world…and as we do each and every Christmas we will sing the familiar hymn to Go Tell It On The Mountain…so that one day…all may know the Good News….and that my friends…here during the season of Advent…that, it what we are really preparing for. Amen

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