Sermon: “Comfort in Christ”
Lectionary Series A; Second Sunday in Advent
Sunday, December 8, 2019
Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:1-12
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 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’” (Matthew 3:1-3).
Comfort. We like to be comfortable. Many us like sitting in that recliner at home by the fire. Or we like snuggling under a blanket on the couch. Or maybe we like that feel of putting on a good ‘ole pair of broken-in jeans. Or we like diving into a meal of comfort food. You know the stuff. The stuff that sticks to your ribs when you eat it. Comfort. We like to be comfortable.
Conversely, we don’t like to be uncomfortable. We don’t like to be bitter cold and we don’t like to be extremely hot either. We don’t appreciate the feel of pants that are far too tight after the Thanksgiving feast. We don’t like when someone makes us do something that is too difficult for us to accomplish. We don’t like someone rocking the boat in any way in our lives. We don’t like to be uncomfortable.
If ever there is a word that would describe the way that John the Baptist’s message is intended to make people feel, the word ‘uncomfortable’ would fit the bill.
After four hundred years of silence from the prophets of God, John the Baptist came on the scene as the fulfillment of the prophecy that one like Elijah would come. And here he was in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey and wearing a camel skin with a belt around his waist. But it wasn’t his apparel or food selections that rocked the boat. It was the words that came out of his mouth.
Repent. In this sense of the word, he was calling the people who came out to hear him to convert. To stop in their tracks and change their sinful ways.
At the core of the word, repent, it means to change your mind. Change your mind about sin and about God because the direction you are currently headed is going to kill you.
The response from many who were there was to repent and be baptized. They heard the word, and they didn’t hesitate to listen and obey. John’s message had made them uncomfortable with their sin, and they knew they needed a change.
That’s what the law does. It makes people uncomfortable. They see their sin for what it truly is. They see that to continue in that sin will only lead to death. So the only response is to repent and seek the true comfort that comes from outside of themselves.
But that was only the response of some who were there that day listening to John the Baptist. There were the Pharisees and Sadducees who were far too comfortable with themselves. So John called them out for their hypocrisy.
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? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 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. 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” (Matthew 3:7-10).
These Pharisees and Sadducees, in their arrogance, saw no need to repent and be baptized. They were convinced that salvation was already theirs to be had. They were thoroughly convinced that they would be saved because they had been grafted into the family of Abraham, and that was all they needed. They didn’t need this call to repentance.
But, that’s just it. We all need this call to repentance. That is the beauty of the season of Advent. Amidst all of the hustle and bustle of this season, John the Baptist stops us in our tracks. He makes clear that this time of year is not about ensuring the comforts of this life are in place. The decorations, the gifts, the baked goods, etc. Those are all well and good. But that is not what we need. We need to be prepared for the coming of Christ. We need to be constantly receiving His Word and Sacrament. And not just at Christmas, but for the Last Day as well.
Advent provides us a time to be honest with ourselves. We are far too comfortable. We are far too comfortable with our sin. In fact, we can be downright arrogant when it comes to our sin. We can be inclined to think that this call to repentance isn’t for us. We often think it is for someone else. Ever thought: “Wow, I sure hope so and so is listening to this sermon. They really need to hear it.” But the truth is, we all do.
We all need to change. And change is hard. Especially for Lutherans. How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb? Change?
Change can be painful. Change can hurt. Because change starts with an admission that what we are doing is in fact sinful. And we don’t like to call our sin a sin. We prefer to justify our sins. They’re not that bad. It wasn’t as bad as my brother or sister or my neighbor or my co-worker, so it’s alright.
But it’s not alright. Sin is never alright. Just one sin separates us from God. Just one. No matter how big or small the sin may be in our eyes, a sin is a sin is a sin in God’s eyes. And He takes it very seriously. How seriously?
John the Baptist tells us: I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 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 (Matthew 3:11-12).
John points us to Jesus to see just how seriously God is about sin. He points us to the fact that for those that repent, they will be gathered into the barn by Jesus, but those that don’t, they will burn with unquenchable fire.
Talk about uncomfortable. You can’t get more graphic and uncomfortable that burning in unquenchable fire. But John’s message is clear. Repent, or else. Or else we face the fires of hell.
So, how have we gotten too comfortable with our sins? How have we compared ourselves to others to justify our sinful actions? How have we told ourselves our sins are not that big of a deal? How have we lied to ourselves about justifying our idolatry, our crass language, our skipping of church, our dishonoring authorities, bearing grudges, lusting, cheating, lying, coveting?
Now is the time to repent. Repent. Because our sins our like a slippery slope that only leads us away from Jesus. I liken this to my driveway in wintertime. I have often said that my driveway was designed by Satan. I say that in jest, but when there is ice on it, I can’t even stop myself from sliding down the slippery slope that goes into the street.
That is the way that sin works. It leads us away from Jesus. John points us back to Jesus. He points us to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He points us to where there is true comfort. It doesn’t come from within. It doesn’t come from justifying our sinful actions. It comes from outside of ourselves. From the One who made it very clear that sin is a very big deal.
Jesus came into this world to bear our sin and be our Savior. He came to quench the unquenchable fires of God’s wrath upon the cross. The fires that should have been ours to bear in the discomfort of hell for all eternity. He came to endure the rejection of God that should have been ours for our sinful failings. His blood shed on Calvary covers all of those failings. His blood covers us and cleanses us.
Jesus baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He makes us pure, spotless, cleansed lambs of God. He removes all of the impurities, so that by His grace, we will be able to stand in the presence of the Almighty God.
That day will soon be here. As we find ourselves in the season of Advent, we look not only to Christmas, but to Christ’s final coming. What a comfort it is for us to know that we will not need to approach that day in fear and trepidation. We who have repented of our sins, will approach the throne of God as children of the heavenly Father. We have been made that way by none other than Jesus who suffered and died for us. This is where our comfort resides as we face the coming of that final day.
Ultimately, our comfort doesn’t come in a warm fire, a blanket, a good ole pair of jeans, or any form of comfort food. Our comfort doesn’t come from a store either. Sure, those things may be nice, but none of it compares to the comfort of knowing that our sins are forgiven and our death is defeated. None of it compares to the comfort that comes in Christ, our coming Savior and Lord. In His name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.