Christ Lutheran Church
December 5, 2021
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
The word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Luke 3:2-3)
Whenever Christ comes let us meet him with repentance. Let us learn to level the mountains of our pride, fill up the valleys of our self-pity with love for God. Let us leave our selfish ways behind, and live as our Lord has taught us to live.
It is a command that is good for all times, and for all people; for saints and sinners alike! Anyone who breathes, anyone who has flesh, needs to repent. But since it is so very hard to do the church, in her wisdom, has set up an entire season, the season of Advent for this purpose.
What does it mean to repent? It means to have remorse because we have violated momentous laws given by our God for our good. Because we have committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” whose true nature will be revealed only in the “coming wrath.” Wrongs by which we have grievously harmed ourselves, one another and indeed by which we have exhausted all creation and rendered it dysfunctional.
Repentance means to be dreadfully sorry, to be cut to the heart, to ache inside and have your stomach tied up in knots. Not because you got caught – every suspect in the back seat of a police car is sorry; or even because of the coming wrath upon all sin and all sinners. But because we have spit in the face of our God and Father. On the glorious visage of the Immortal, Invisible Only Wise God who Created us in Wisdom, sustains us with Mercy, and gave his One and Only Son of suffer, die and rise again to redeem us. And who will make one final appearance to put RIGHT all that is WRONG; and nothing, however secret, will escape his notice or his justice.
Is it any wonder then that as a matter of liturgy we confess ourselves to the “poor, miserable sinners?” That phrase is inspired by Revelation 3:17 FF:
“For you say, 'I am rich, and filled with good things and have no need of anything. But you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. I counsel you to purchase REFINED GOLD from me so that you might become rich; and WHITE GARMENTS so that you might be clothed and so that the shame of your nakedness might not be revealed; and SALVE TO ANOINT YOUR EYES, so that you may see! Those whom I love and also reprove and discipline, and so be zealous, then, and repent!”
The “refined gold” that our Lord has in mind here is the Word of Absolution that you receive today in the church, and can obtain no where else. It is not available online, on social media, at Starbucks nor from those who practice cultural sorcery.
And so let us hear the Word of the Lord.
Who should repent?
John the Baptizer exempts no one.
First he addresses the whole of humanity as the “offspring of vipers,” which is to say that their parents were snakes, and so are they: both by nature and nurture. Aggressive, toxic and full of cunning.
Is that a harsh portrayal of humanity?
Yes, harsh, but accurate! And God be praised also curable! by the confession of sins that the church prescribes today. And by the blood of Christ shed on the cross, and given for us Christians to eat and to drink at this altar, today, for the remission of sins, life and salvation.
How far back does this go? Back to Adam in the newly minted Garden. There we find record of the first sin in Genesis Chapter Three: dereliction of duty! “Adam was created as a priest, with the vocation to stand before God on behalf of the Woman in whom was the life of the world, and of the whole creation and to liturgize the Creator.” (Fr. B. Varghese) But he failed to believe the Promise, and succumbed to congregational politics.
The very next recorded sin, in Chapter Four, is fratricide. Cain kills Abel because of Abel’s faith in Jesus the coming Savior, who would shed his blood for the life of the world. All of that and more were part of Abel’s bloody sacrifice. But Cain, the Vegan, could not wrap his head around that.
Nor can scientists and social engineers. They cannot rightly diagnose humanity’s problem, and so they can do no more than temporarily treat the symptoms as they jump from one human experiment to the other. How deplorable!
But St. John the Baptist lays the axe to the root of the tree of sinful nature, and cuts it down – not to destroy us but to give us new Life by grafting the Root of Jesse, even Jesus Christ our Living Lord, into us. And by grafting us into him who is the Good Olive Tree.
So that we might produce the good fruit of the Spirit which is: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law,” says St. Paul, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
What does repentance look like? The Baptizer has an answer. First for mankind as a whole: Let him who has two shirts give one to the person who has none. Likewise with food.
Then John has a prescription for each according to his station in life. To Israel’s tax collectors, who were known for exacting more than was due, and for getting rich on the backs of the poor, he says: only collect the authorized amount and no more.
To the Roman soldiers who served as the local police department and who were famous for intimidating and extorting money and other favors from the populace he says: "Do not extort or intimidate anymore, and be content with your wages."
Now it’s not hard to extrapolate from this pattern the form repentance will take in each of our lives whether we are parents or children, husbands or wives, supervisors or employees. In a word: Love God perfectly, and Love our neighbor as we love ourselves.
But what is love? Love is sacrifice. It is martyrdom. It is the putting to death of self for the sake of others like Jesus who says: “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. I have called you my friends.” (Jn 15:13) Or as St. Paul states it, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” And so give yourself, sell all that you have, and you will have treasure in heaven.
And so today let us gain the knowledge, power and desire to repent of our sins. To interrupt our tunnel vision, and to look forward with gladness to the coming King. He who once came to save, who comes to us today in the consecrated Bread and Cup to save, and who will come again to put a final end to the drama of the ages and deliver everlasting salvation to us.
“Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.” Amen.