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No Jingle Bells Yet

December 8, 2018

Verse: Luke 3:7–3:14

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Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
December 9, 2018
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Advent 2
No Jingle Bells Yet

And so John would say to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, "You children of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore, carry out fruits that are in keeping with repentance, and do not begin reciting among yourselves: 'We have Abraham as our father', for I tell you that God can, out of these stones, raise up children of Abraham; and even now the ax is laid to the root. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and flung into the fire."

So the crowds then asked him, "What shall we do?" And he said to them, “Let the one who has two coats share with him who has none. And whoever has food let him do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to him to be baptized and they said to him, “Teacher what shall we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than you are required to.” And soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, "Do not extort, nor make false accusations, and be content with your wages.” (Luke 3:7-14)

Don’t bring out the jingle bells just yet O Church because Advent is a season of repentance! It is a time of mourning over our sins. A period to ponder the frightening words of John the Baptizer that “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and flung into the fire.”

Advent is also the time to re-assert the basic Christian doctrine that there are only two possible destinies for all people: heaven or hell; everlasting joy or unending misery, eternal reward or never-ending punishment in unquenchable fire … and which one will you choose?

Don’t think too hard because the default choice is already made for us by virtue of our birth; because we are all born on the wrong side of the tracks; because we are all the product of sinful parents who will live out our brief lives by sin’s dictates unless we repent! Unless we repudiate our wrongs and call out to our God for mercy.

Keeping in mind that repentance is strictly the gift of God (Rom. 6:23) it is a gift that most of us received as infants in baptism! Yes, that is right. We did not choose to be “begotten from above” (John 3:3) anymore than we chose to be born of our mothers. But it is the gift of God! The grace of God! And always the goodness of God that leads us to repentance! (Rom. 2:4)That saves us from the wrath to be revealed when our Lord comes again in glory!

But repentance is not a onetime affair!

The first Lutheran confession ever made is the 1st of Luther’s 95 Theses of 1517 which goes like this: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”

Yes, we need to repent daily because we sin daily and merit nothing but God’s wrath. And God be praised we have the tools of repentance at our disposal.

We have sacramental absolution given here each Sunday which you should believe with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

We have private confession and absolution and may we learn to avail ourselves of it for there is no greater peace.

But we also have this mighty little prayer of repentance that should never be far from our lips, “Lord have mercy”! A prayer which our Heavenly Father will always answer in the affirmative because the Babe of Bethlehem we welcome at Christmas made full atonement for our sins on the cross.

If John the Baptist were here today he might say: “But don’t begin to recite to yourselves: ‘we are baptized, and so what does it matter how we live?’” It most certainly matters precisely because we are baptized!

As Lutheran Christians we believe, teach, confess and stake our eternal destiny on this doctrine that, “A man is justified by faith [in Christ] apart from the works of the law!” (Rom. 3:28)

But we assert just as strongly that “anyone who is in Christ is a new creation, that the old things are passed away, and behold, all things have become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17).

And so let us ask today what the crowds asked John then, “What are we to do?”
Are we “to continue in sin so that grace may abound,” as St. Paul rhetorically asked? “God forbid! For how can we who died to sin still live in it? (Romans 6:1ff)

We cannot, must not, and dare not O Redeemed of Christ because we are children of the light, children of the day, and so let us walk with Jesus in whom there is no darkness at all! With him who says, “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) And Oh how we need that light!

What then are we to do? John answers like this: “Produce fruits in keeping with repentance,” which the Baptizer goes on to cast in terms both positive and negative.

He says to the crowds: “Let the one who has two coats share with him who has none. And whoever has food let him do likewise.”

What does this mean?

It means to be generous with others; to share this world’s goods with those who don’t have them; to ease the burdens of others, always beginning in your own home and working your way out from there. It means to be Simons of Cyrene to others, and to help them to carry the crosses they bear.

To the tax collectors and soldiers, that is to people in positions of power, his message is this: Don’t use your Office to harm others! To steal or extort; to use or abuse; but as God given Offices of service instead! That is how God’s people are to use any and all power with which God has entrusted them.

And so let us prepare for the coming of the Lord by repentance and faith, and look for “the salvation of our God.” (Lk 3:6) Not with jingle bells, but by Advent. By this season of sorrow. By a segment of time dedicated to pondering where we have been, where we are, and where we need to go if we wish to avoid the wrath to come.

For unless we comprehend that “the wages of sin is death” and repent we will never believe that “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23).

But let us believe it with all our strength because it is the truth. Because it is “the salvation of our God!” (Luke 3:6) Amen.