Luke 3:1-14 (Second Sunday in Advent—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
December 9, 2012
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in Luke 3:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'” 7 He said therefore 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? 8 Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin 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. 9 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.” 10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
It’s happening in nine days. At least, that’s what some people think. The Mayan calendar runs out on December 21, and so that must mean the end of the world. When my calendar runs out I go and buy a new one. But I guess that won’t work since the Mayan civilization is long gone. I was flipping channels before going to bed the other night and caught the beginning of a program that was suggesting there might just be something to this prediction that the end of the world coincides with the end of the Mayan calendar. Not to be judgmental, but the shows “host” was a scary looking guy who was saying a lot of stuff that would indeed scare a lot of people.
And scare people this whole Mayan calendar business has. E-how.com has posted tips for preparing for December 21 (or any natural disaster), including the advice to stockpile food and supplies and taking out cash and having it on hand. Yet, at the end you can read this disclaimer, “Don’t panic unnecessarily—the end of the world has been predicated several times in the past, and yet, here we still are!” But compare that to the official survival guide at December212012.com, “The Time Has Come. Prepare to LIVE or Prepare to DIE. The United States and other world governments are well aware of what is coming. They know they won’t be able to protect and assist everyone, so they have developed self-help materials and websites such as Ready.gov and FEMA.gov. These sites provide valuable information for short-term survival of isolated events such as earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes, but do not directly address the real dangers that await us. Surviving the coming events of December 21, 2012 is not necessarily like surviving other natural or manmade disaster. You and your family will have to be more proactive and assume more preemptive strategies for long term or even permanent survival. You need to realize that this will be a global event that will effect each and every living thing on the planet. Food and clean water will be scarce and public utilities will be nonexistent. The world governments cannot and will not be able to assist in your continuing wellbeing and you will more or less be on your own. The purpose of this website is to assist and provide you with the necessary resources and information to help you prepare for, and survive a long-term global disaster.”
But I’m not the slightest bit concerned. Nor should you be. We have a very clear word from Jesus about the Last Day. He assures us, “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” (Matthew 24:36) No one, much less the Mayans, can decipher the day or even the year of the Last Day. We flee from those who claim they can and we do not concern ourselves with the scare tactics of the devil who wants us to focus on impending doom and destruction rather than the Coming again of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory.
We have another sure word from God about that. “For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matt. 24:37-39) “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” (Mat 24:29-31)
This is God’s reality about the Last Day and it hinges on the coming again of Jesus. None of the doomsday prophets even talk about the return of Christ in connection with December 21! So we put aside any concerns and thoughts about December 21 and turn our full attention to getting ready for the day we know will come suddenly, like a thief in the night—the day Jesus comes again in glory.
To prepare the people for the first coming of Christ into the world in His incarnation and birth among us, God sent the last prophet, John the son of Zechariah. John’s preparations for the coming Messiah were not filled with stockpiles of food and water but with a necessary message of God’s Law to show people that they needed a change of heart. God was coming among them in human flesh. We know from Psalm 5 that “The boastful shall not stand before [God’s] eyes; [He hates] all evildoers.” (Psalm 5:5) How could the people be prepared to receive God-made-flesh in their midst?
John tells them, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” Repentance was John’s theme. He was regularly preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2) He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance is being led to renounce sin and turning away from a life that is not lived according to God’s commandments. Repentance calls for a radical transformation of the entire person, a fundamental turn around!
And it seems that the crowds to whom John preached and baptized got the message. “What then should we do?” they asked. “We want to be prepared to receive the Lord’s Christ. We want to bear fruit in keeping with repentance so that we are not cut off from God. Teacher, what should we do?” And John tells them, “Share with those in need. Don’t steal. Don’t threaten people and extort money from them. Be content with your wages.” In other words, do the Commandments. Let your actions in life reflect the condition of your heart.
But that’s just the very problem. My life does reflect the condition of my heart, and that condition, left untreated, isn’t pretty. I want to be prepared for my Lord’s coming again. I want to be like a tree that is producing good fruit. I want to be about the business of loving the Lord with my whole heart and loving my neighbors. I want to do the Commandments, but my actions often reflect the condition of my sinful heart. I don’t always share. I’m not always content with what I have. I’m not always interested in doing things “God’s way” because I’ve got a grudge against someone, or I just don’t feel like being nice today. There are days I just don’t care. My life reflects my heart’s condition. And what if the Lord should come then? Would it be a day of doom and destruction for me? If I haven’t been producing 100% good fruit will I be cut down and thrown into the fires of hell for my sins and my failing to do God’s Commandments?
No! And neither will you, for I know you fall short before God just as I do. The reason neither you nor I will be cut off from God is because Jesus was cut down in our place. The ax was laid to the root of a tree and it was cut down to be used as a Roman cross. Jesus was nailed to that cross of wood. He suffered the punishment for our heart’s sinful condition. He suffered God’s wrath against our sinful actions, words, thoughts, and desires. “He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows . . . stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. . . . He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken from the transgression of [God’s] people.” (Is. 53)
Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we see the salvation of our God. We are not condemned because of the sinful condition of our hearts. We are redeemed and forgiven so that God might change our hearts, that He might turn them from sin to obedience, from death to everlasting life. You see, the repentance that prepares us for Christ’s coming is God’s work in us through faith in Christ. Bearing the good fruits of repentance is God’s work in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is God the Holy Spirit, working through the Word, who enables us to see our sin for what it truly is. As we see our sin and our wretchedness, with faith in Jesus as our Savior, we ask for God’s mercy and forgiveness, and the power to return to His way of life—the way of obedience and love for God and one another.
Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, out of His pure grace, without us deserving anything at all, God grants us forgiveness and everlasting life. He changes our hearts so that now we not only desire but also can do His will in our lives. We can share and show love to our neighbors in need, even as we respond to God’s love in Christ with our thanks and praise to Him.
By grace through faith, God has prepared us through His Word of Law and Gospel to receive Christ when He comes again in glory. There is no need to be afraid that, when the Lord comes again, we will be the fruitless tree that is cut down and thrown into the fire. Jesus assures those who believe in Him and who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, live lives of repentance and faith, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit. . . . You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” (John 15) Our sins and failings are covered over with the blood of Jesus and we stand forgiven and right before God. Our fruits of faith and repentance will endure until that day when our Lord Jesus comes again in glory.
So whether the Last Day comes this week or this year, next year, or 30 years from now, we are ready. There’s nothing to worry about ‘cause we know what to do. We are prepared. God’s people in Christ Jesus are all set for His return as we live the life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. You and I are producing the good fruits of love that His Spirit creates in us. The Lord bless the produce of love and mercy that we share with others as we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.” Amen.