Second Sunday in Advent [a] December 8, 2019
1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.'” 4 Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.
9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 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. 11 I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
In the Name of Jesus.
It all takes place out in the wilderness. Away from the city, from the roads and streets, from the shops and banks and businesses, from the houses and restaurants, from the meetings and conferences and parties.
It takes place out in the wilderness. Out there, you don’t have any of the things you normally have to hide behind. Your job, your status, your standing in the community, your house and assets, these things which give a person a respectable presentation, they don’t carry so much weight in the wilderness. The fine jewelry, the fancy coat, the stylish boots, they’re no help in the wilderness.
In the wilderness you stand before the prophet on your own, as who you are, no trappings of respectability to defend you, bare and unguarded.
And the prophet says, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
To hide behind a covering of respectability is to protect ourselves from the need to repent.
But the prophet is out in the wilderness: “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Coming to the prophet are all the people of Jerusalem: Rich land owners dressed in fine robes, but their status gives them no standing before the prophet; soldiers, but sword and armor give no help in withstanding the Word of the Lord; tax collectors, but their bureaucracy and legal powers won’t protect them from the onslaught of the Law; teachers of the Law and Pharisees, but the Law and rules they hide behind when going after sinners back in the city give them no covering when the prophet is calling for repentance; Sadducees, those who wear the fancy robes at the Temple and keep watch for who is giving the best offerings, but when faced up with the Word of the Lord, their fine clothing gives no defense.
“Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand,”
says the prophet John.
The call to repentance leaves every person standing at the face of God with nothing to hide behind.
We can build up our lives to show no vulnerability, no weakness, nothing out of place, but then the Word of the Lord lays us bare, as bare as a once respectable man standing in front of John the Baptist out in the desert only to hear him say, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Repentance means you are not in the Kingdom, and there is something you must be done with before you come to the face of God. Repentance means there is something to be stripped away and left behind in order to be brought into the kingdom.
To the tax collectors and bureaucrats—Leave behind the security you form up in your worldly strength and intimidation.
To the Sadducees and Temple workers—Be done with the security you find in your fine clothing and high offices.
To the Pharisees and teachers of the Law—Strip yourself of the false security you have in justifying yourself with the Law and in putting others under the accusation.
To all, the word is repent.
For all are sinful. And any effort of the sinner to protect himself with the coverings of respectability, with the defense of self-justification, with the security of strength and intimidation, it is all to be left behind.
When the Word of the Lord is spoken, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. And no sinner makes himself worthy of this kingdom.
Advent proclaims the coming of the King, Jesus.
You do not meet Jesus by holding onto any covering that would protect you from him. Jesus wants to meet the sinner full on, the sinner standing before him with no pretense of being anything but sinner. Repentance is the stripping away of everything not letting Jesus meet you full on.
Self-justification? Hypocrisy? Outward righteousness? Judgment against others to place oneself in a better position? The call to repentance is the call to be done with it all: Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Then, standing as sinners in the wilderness with nothing to hide behind, laid bare by the Law, we look at the One who has faced us up to himself. We look at Jesus.
And we see standing there the One who did not let himself be known for his fine clothing or impressive presentation, but made himself known in the most sparse, bare way of all—a man hanging naked on the cross.
“Behold the Man,” said Pilate, as he sent Jesus to the cross. Pilate could not have spoken truer words. Jesus, the Man standing in for all men, for all sinners, the holy One, going to the cross.
This is Advent. The coming of the King. We behold the Man. We look at Jesus. He comes to us in his Word. His word gives us nothing to hide behind. His Law lays us bare.
Then he covers us. The clothing is his, he gives it to us.
“All of you, who were baptized into Christ,”
“have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
And now we see repentance not as this work of the Law by which the Law has stripped us bare before God. Now we see repentance as gift—pure gift. It is this Lord, the One who hung bare on the cross for us, kindly and gently turning us around, turning us away from our self-righteousness and self-justification, and turning us to himself.
Repentance as gift. Repentance in the way of the Gospel. Repentance not as a work we do to hope that God won’t be mad at us, but as a work done toward us and for us by a King who turns us to himself with his gentle Word of Gospel.
Out in the wilderness, it is gifts.
The gift of being stripped of any covering of false security, of being laid bare to stand as nothing but sinner. The gift to the sinner, then: look upon the Lord who came to seek and to save the lost, to cleanse the sinner, to call and gather into his kingdom.
The gift of the Lord who makes his Advent to us, using bread and wine to approach us, to bring us face to face with him in his Body and Blood. When he has faced us up to himself, the words we hear, the words we cannot miss, are, “For you, for the forgiveness of your sins.”
In the Name of Jesus.