Advent 2, December 9, 2018
Text: Luke 3:1–14 (15–20)
I am a person who likes things neat. In order. Ordnung. “A place for everything and everything in its place.” I am now going to tell you a secret: That’s hard to do when you have two teenagers in the house. And an 85-pound dog.
I got this from my mother. She had a reputation for being the epitome of the German–American hausfrau. I have often joked with folks, and this is with my mom present when she was still with us, that her kitchen floor, while she was cooking Thanksgiving dinner, was cleaner than most hospital operating rooms. When I referenced this aspect about my mom at her funeral, everyone smiled because everyone knew that about her. And so at this time of year, no dust, dirt or microbe was going to survive or be in our house when Jesus’ birthday came around. December was a time to straighten up.
In today’s Gospel, we are reminded of John the Baptist and his message to the world. His message is the way it is for us in Advent today. We need to remember that we are sinners, and Jesus came to take those sins away. We are reminded today that in this Advent season, we need to “Straighten Up.”
John was kind of the Prophet of Advent. We can give him that title. He is the prophet whom God the Father appointed to clear the way for Jesus’ coming. And believe me, he cleared the way. Nothing wishy-washy about John, and no tiptoeing around for him. He marched right in with no fear, no political correctness, and the like. He was not going to adjust his message for fear of offending someone. The area he preached, wherever that was, was not a “safe space.” He didn’t worry about anyone being “triggered.” He laid it on the line to all who heard him: “You brood of vipers!” Not many pastors that can get away with that today. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees,” he announced. All the dead wood was to be cut out of the Lord’s forest. “Every tree, therefore, that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v 9).
Now that’s a little unsettling if we have the ears to hear it. And it should be. For the sad truth is that more often than not, you and I don’t produce the good fruit our Lord expects. We simply don’t love God with all our heart and soul and strength, much less love our neighbors as ourselves. Despite our best efforts, there are those we have hurt and those we have failed to help. Our thoughts and desires are filled with sin. As Walter Cronkite used to say, “That’s the way it is.” The way of the Lord is the way of repentance, you see. That is, it calls for change. A change of mind and heart, which only God can work within us by the power of His Holy Spirit.
That’s what we need this Advent season: a change so that we can straighten up, straighten up our hearts and lives. We need to clean out our messed-up hearts so cluttered with sin and clear out our lives, littered with shame and guilt so that they might be filled to overflowing with the life of Jesus Christ instead.
Not that such a change comes easy, mind you. It means the death of the habits of the sinful heart. And such habits always die hard. It’s always much easier to love and serve ourselves than it is to love and serve God and our neighbor. It always comes naturally to the sinful heart to lash out with anger when we’re hurt, to return evil for evil, to repay injury with injury. It is much easier to cut down other people than to love them and build them up. Think of all the folks the media used to love that they are now tearing down: Harvey Weinstein, Johnny Depp, Kanye West. It’s easier for the sinful heart to curse and swear, to lie and deceive by God’s name, than to pray, praise, and give Him thanks. That’s why the way of the Lord leads first to the cross before it leads to joy. That’s why the Christian life is a life of constant repentance. First, we confess our sins, then God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). First the cross and then the crown. Such is the way, the road, we walk. So let’s stir up our hearts this Advent season. It’s time for a change, a new way. We need to straighten up. How do we do this?
What this means for you I cannot tell you. It means different things for different people, depending on who you are and where you are in life. It depends what your favorite sins are. You can tell that from John’s instructions to those who heard his preaching. For tax collectors, the way of the Lord meant to be honest; for soldiers, it meant to be content and not take what didn’t belong to them. For others, it meant generosity and mercy, giving food and clothing to those who had none, for Jesus’ sake. What is this for you? I don’t know. But how is this done? That I can most certainly tell you: by the grace of God, that’s how.
The Son of God, who came down from heaven and was born of the Virgin Mary, will change your hearts and make them new. He who left the throne in heaven to be cradled in a cattle trough and wrapped in swaddling clothes will clean the Sin out of here and make you all shiny. This Lord Jesus will sweep the cobwebs out of our hearts and make them fit for His coming. He will take the stuff from our culture that is cluttering up in your hearts and He will straighten you up.
So get ready. Get ready for Christmas most certainly, but above all else prepare your hearts for the coming of Jesus. Let this Advent season be your comfort and your joy as deep within takes root the reality that Jesus has actually come in the flesh to die and rise again for you. He comes this very day in His Gospel and His Sacrament to make you new, and whole, and free. And we know He will come again.
So prepare the way for His coming. Get straightened up! Let this be your constant Advent prayer: “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son.” Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come.
In Jesus’ Name.