Sermon: “Repentant Preparation”             

LSB Series B

2nd Sunday in Advent; December 6, 2020

Gospel Reading: Mark 1:1-8

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

When I was growing up, we had a small sand pit near the edge of the woods where my brother and I would play with our Tonka trucks. We had a bulldozer, a grader, a dump truck, you name it. And they weren’t the plastic ones you see today. No, these were the heavy duty metal ones, the ones that could handle the rough play of two boys that wreaked havoc on just about everything. In fact, if you want to play trucks, feel free to come on over, because I still have them. You know, for the days when I have nothing to do. J

          With those Tonka trucks, my brother and I would fill valleys and level mountains. We would make uneven ground level, and rough places would become a plain. Sound familiar? It should.

          Today’s Gospel lesson is the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy in the book of Isaiah. I would like to share the words of the prophet with you once again.

          “A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5).

          Like bulldozers that unsettle the land, so this text ought to be unsettling to you and to me. Like tax collectors and soldiers who gathered by the River Jordan and saw their sinful exploitation in light of the coming Savior, so we ought to see ourselves as sinners in need of some construction known as repentance. We, too, are in need of a change of heart about sin and about God as we prepare for the coming of Christ.

          Where the terrain looks vastly different after bulldozers, graders, and dump trucks do their work, so our lives ought to look vastly different as we prepare for the coming of Christ. Our sin has no place as we prepare the way of the Lord.

          John the Baptist’s message is not just a message for those that gathered by the Jordan. His message is for every one of every time period. That includes us. We are in need of repentance.

          Repentance is a reversal. It is an admission that what we are doing is more than just wrong, it is sinful, it is downright deadly. And like anything that would be deadly, we are to steer clear from it as quickly as possible.

          Like a bottle that tells us that something is poisonous if we consume it, like a hot stove that cries out “don’t touch me or else be burned,” like a cliff that screams “turn around or else you are going to fall to your death,” so repentance calls upon us to change our direction. 

          Yes, repentance is confessing our sin, but what also goes with it is an amending of the sinful life. It is a recognition that declares that if we continue in this current path it will only be to our demise and destruction…and if not careful…to our very damnation.

          The good news of John is that he cries out from the wilderness to point us to the only One who can truly save us. John gets our attention as he dons camel’s hair and a leather belt while eating locusts and wild honey, and then appropriately tells us that he is not the one who can save us. Only Jesus can.

It’s kind of like the guy in a construction site with the flag directing us to make a detour or else harm may come to our vehicle, or worse, harm may come to us. John is doing that as he points in the wilderness. He is flagging us down to get our attention with his wild apparel, but he only does so in order to direct us in the way we should go so that we are safe and secure.

But just because the flagger is not the source of salvation, does not negate the importance of the flagger. We need that person to direct us to where salvation is found. We need John the Baptist. He is the final prophet before the coming of the Messiah. We need his audacious apparel to wake us up from an apathetic faith that constantly argues that our sins are not that big of a deal. 

How often have we justified skipping a worship service here and there because we think we don’t need it, or we think remembering the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy is merely a suggestion rather than a command given by God for our benefit? If that is the case, we have not come to terms with the gravity of our sin. If that is the case we have not looked at what it means if we were to continue past the flagger and head in the wrong direction avoiding the detour. If that is the case, then we don’t seem to accept the fact that the wage of sin truly is death.

When are we not in need of what Jesus gives? When are we not in need of forgiveness? The answer is never. The answer is that we are always in need of forgiveness.

Yet, there is a valid concern throughout Christendom that what will come out of this pandemic is that there will no longer be a need to gather as a people of faith. There is a valid concern that even after a vaccine is found and broadly administered, that people will likely find it easy to dismiss being in the house of God to receive His gifts. There is a valid concern that even those who have been back in church have begun to condition themselves away from weekly attendance to much less than that. 

Are we seeing the flagger flying his flag in the air trying to get our attention? Are we seeing the ways that we are possibly being conditioned here in this pandemic? Are we noticing the apathy settling in that runs counter to an active life of faith? Are we noticing the apathy that is settling in and dulling the awareness to our sin and its effects? 

See before you, the flag that John is flying. It is a red flag and it is declaring, “Don’t continue down that path. Don’t go down that road. It is a slippery slope that only leads away from where salvation is truly found.”

John the Baptist comes here today to awaken and enliven us once again, to lead us to live out our baptismal faith in the confidence of a Savior who has leveled the plain for us to the Father. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. His name is Jesus. He is the Lord that John was pointing to, and He is your only source of salvation, and He is calling you here today…And whether you are worshipping in person or online, He is calling you to repent.

Now is the time for repentant preparation as we look to the coming of Christ. Now is the time to look in the mirror and see ourselves for the sinners that we truly are. See how the filth of a life spent in greed and hatred and lust and gossip is only driving us farther away from Christ. It will only lead to our destruction and demise. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, repent. Admit your fault. Confess your sin, and rejoice in the sweetest message ever shared. It is just as we hear in the liturgy from Scripture: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. [But] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1st John 1:8-9). 

You are forgiven all your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

That is what we are. We are forgiven, and nothing separates us from His love. Absolutely nothing. Like those that gathered by the Jordan River confessing their sins, so we have been called here to do the same, and the result is the same. Our life has been made new in the forgiveness of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Now go and sin no more.

Jesus has entered into the wilderness to pave the way for us to follow Him to the cross and the empty tomb. He has gone beyond the measure of a bulldozer, grader, or dump truck. With His holy and precious blood shed on Calvary, He has laid down His life in our stead, and in doing so, He has made our way level to enter into the Promised Land that awaits us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.