ADVENT 1, C – December 2, 2018

SCRIPTURES – Malachi 3:1-7; Philippians 1:2-11; Luke 3:1-14

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3)

 

What season is it? Well, it’s winter, right? No, it’s not. Winter doesn’t arrive for almost three weeks. Even though we’ve had some pretty cold days, it’s still fall.

Ok: it’s Christmas time! It’s time for Christmas carols and holiday movies! It’s time for sending gifts; perhaps even baskets of fruit! Well, even though many Christmas Trees are already up… and people are busily shopping for gifts… and people are saying, “Merry Christmas!” or “Happy Holidays!”… it’s not yet Christmas. That’s three weeks away.

What season is it? It’s Advent. It’s time to listen to John the Baptist, the messenger sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus. It’s time, not for sending fruit, but for bearing fruit in keeping with repentance.

Repentance. What does this mean? What does God expect of you? Repentance is this: turning to a new beginning in your life with God.

Notice: I said turning to a new beginning, not making a new beginning. It is not in your power to make a new beginning in your life with God, to change what is sinful and wrong in you and make yourself a new person who pleases God. John the Baptist makes this very clear. "You brood of vipers!” he says to the people coming to him. Vipers (snakes); he uses a very strong image. John calls us to remember Adam and Eve, and the devil, in the form of a snake, tempting them to disobey God. Adam and Eve fell so low in sin when they gave into the devil that, when God then came to them in mercy, they acted like the devil by blaming God for what they had done. Their hearts were now so filled with sin that they acted like the devil! “You brood of vipers!” John cries out to us. “You are their children! Turn to God, for only He can rescue you! Only He can give you a new beginning, as He did with Adam and Eve!”

Take John’s words to heart. We are poor, miserable sinners, as we confessed at the beginning of the Service. We are in a miserable condition, for sin – the doubting of God and the goodness of His ways and commands to follow our own desires instead – is not just evident in some of our actions. It fills our hearts and minds and battles against God constantly.

It sounds unhealthy to say this, much less believe it. What do you think and how do you feel when you say the words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner...”? You and I aren’t really all that bad, are we? We’re certainly better than many other people! We’re church-going Christians, after all; even followers of that great servant of God Martin Luther! “Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father,'” cries John. “God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." Comparisons with others and excuses and denials don’t cut it. God demands: be a new person, one who gladly follows Him at all times and in all things, or He will cut you down! But, you cannot make yourself such a new person by beginning with your old self. Turn, therefore, to the new beginning that God has brought you! Turn to your baptism.

John proclaimed “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” and that is what God gave you in your baptism. In your baptism you were joined to Christ and His blood, which is stronger than any refiner’s fire or cleansing soap. In your baptism you were completely cleansed of the guilt of every sin, and God, and not just Abraham or Luther, became your Father. Every time you struggle with temptation and sin and guilt, turn to this and remember this! God has made you a new person – His own dear child! As your good Father He who began this good work in you is with you to bring it to completion. Turn to this promise, the new life of your baptism! This is repentance.

Now: how does this impact your life? How should it be seen in your life? Turn to others in a new way, to look upon them and deal with them in a new way.

This involves far more than just a change of actions and behaviors; although, such change is often needed. For instance, John told the tax collectors and soldiers who came to him for baptism and asked what they were to do: "Collect no more than you are authorized to do. Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages." They were to show their care for others by doing their jobs rightly, without cheating and stealing, and were to be content with their pay. You are to do the same in the job in which you serve, and show your care for others in everything you do. This is repentance.

But, it is especially in your heart – in what you think of others – that your repentance is to be seen. The people of Israel were quite shocked that John accepted tax collectors and soldiers as they were and did not demand that they quit their work and find other jobs. They were really bad people, after all. They worked for Israel’s despised enemies, the Romans! How could John allow them to continue doing so? How could he welcome them and consider them acceptable to God? This was outrageous!

We’re not so unaccepting and so easily outraged, are we? We know that the factory owner is no better than the welder who works there. We know that Christ died for all people, and God welcomes every sinner who repents and trusts in Jesus, no matter what their background or skin color or abilities. But: what about that church member sitting over there… or there… or not sitting here at all… whose attitudes and behaviors bug you? It’s easy to just avoid him… right? And with a shrug that says, “Oh, well, you know.” "You brood of vipers! Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” You are to look upon other repentant sinners as John did, or the apostle Paul did.

“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel,” wrote Paul to the Philippian Christians. Do you want your attitude toward others to change? Pray for them. See your fellow Christians as partners with you in the Gospel – as God, who knows their faults better than you, has made them to be! “I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace,” wrote Paul. God deals with us all by grace, and not according to what we deserve. Thanks be to God for such mercy! You receive it. Respond with it! You have been created for this, made a new person in Christ in your Baptism for this! This is the work of repentance that God gives you to do.

Man, this is hard to do. We struggle with this! Yes; but you are not alone in your struggle. You have brothers and sisters in the faith who are struggling with you. Most importantly, your God is struggling with you. Jesus made Himself a partner with you when He came down from heaven and became man. His death for your sins is your forgiveness. His resurrection to new life is your new life. In your baptism He began the good work of making you new by coming to dwell within you. Your strong God is with you, and will bring to completion His work within and through you.

Turn to this life; to Christ in you in your baptism. Keep this in your heart and mind in this season of Advent, this time of repentance. You will then be “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil. 1) In the name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.