Sunday, December 04, 2022

Matthew 3:1-11; Second Sunday in Advent; December 4, 2022;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
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.’ ” Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 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. “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.” (Matthew 3:1–11, ESV)
Listen to the voice in the wilderness

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

He wasn’t what you’d expect in a voice of authority. His clergy vestments weren’t elaborate. Instead of a long flowing white gown he wore camels’ hair and as simple leather belt. His baptismal font wasn’t gold incrusted, or even wood, like ours. It was the muddy Jordan River, a shallow spot close to the main crossing place between the east and west sides. His church wasn’t a beautiful man-made building, lined with stained glass, and beautiful decorations. His was a place, outdoors, near a major thoroughfare. The rocky, un-cultivated area around the river. Because of his setting he was called the “voice in the wilderness.”

But, despite the setting, in spite of his appearance, his message was one of critical importance to the kingdom of God. So important, in fact, is John’s message, that the Gospel lesson for today and next Sunday are about him. Two out of the four Gospel lessons in Advent are about John. I think that means we should pay attention to what he is saying, if we want to prepare for the coming of the baby Jesus. So, the question for us is this: What does John have to say to us, today, here in Grand Marais, MN, the second year in a century 20 centuries removed from the sound of his voice? Why should we “Listen to the Voice in the Wilderness?”

John the Baptist was a fearless preacher. He didn’t hesitate to confront people with their sin. He didn’t mince words. Can you imagine walking up to a group of people today and calling them, “You brood of Vipers!” That is just what John did. He screamed it at the Pharisees. They were hypocritical, meaning they acted one way but underneath they were quite different. They had turned the religion of the Jews away from true worship of God, the one who had delivered them from Egypt to a meaningless performance of rituals, and countless rules and regulations. And he shouted at the Sadducees that denied the words of God himself by saying that there would be no resurrection of the dead. In today’s climate it isn’t considered proper to tell other people they’re wrong. But John the Baptist didn’t pull any punches. The sins that he pointed out were worthy of such warning from this voice in the wilderness.

But sin, of course, isn’t limited to the Pharisees and the Sadducees. If it where we wouldn’t need to gather here today. Sin is a fact of our everyday lives. We encounter it in others, and we see it in ourselves. But all too often we want to block out the voice in the wilderness when it speaks about sin, especially when it strikes a little too close to home. We would rather concentrate on the little baby to come. But God speaks to us in warning whenever we would turn away from his declaration of our sin. “The axe is laid at the root of the tree,” he says. Judgment is due, sin has its consequences, and you cannot go on sinning forever. Sin is serious business. Without a recognition of that, a right relationship with God can never begin. Listen to the warning of the voice in the wilderness.

John’s voice was more than just a voice crying out a warning. He had a very special role in God’s plan of salvation. He was the great prophet who was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah, the promised Savior. He was the final voice in a long line of voices beginning with God himself, who spoke of the one who would crush the serpent’s head. John’s voice was also a prophetic voice. He was preparing the way for Jesus to come. He was preparing for the baby that would lie in swaddling clothes, and sleep in Mary’s loving arms. But John’s words don’t quite seem to fit that little baby.

“He is coming,” said John, “don’t be caught un-repentant! When the Messiah comes, he will come as a judge and separate the wheat from the chaff. Just like a man harvesting grain, the chaff must be burned. To be un-repentant is to be destined for the fire.” John’s message carried with it strong judgment. We have a difficult time seeing the little baby as bringing with him strong judgment. But that little baby is the same one who used John’s words to speak out against those who didn’t repent. As surly as Jesus was born in the quiet darkness of Bethlehem, he also brought God’s judgment to the world.

But judgment and destruction aren’t God’s delight. John also said the coming Savior would gather his own wheat into his barn. There they would be safe and protected for all eternity. And Jesus does gather his own, “My sheep hear my voice, and they know me,” he said. “I am the Good Shepherd, I will do what is necessary for my sheep, even though it means my own death.” Like wheat gathered in the barn, Jesus will gather his own. These are the words that John gives for the comfort of those who belong to the Savior. These are the words of peace and hope from the voice in the wilderness.

And there is even more in John’s message to listen to. “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” St. Paul would say it like this, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3) John’s says that Jesus brings with him the Holy Spirit and fire. Just as fire refines, so does the Holy Spirit. When he comes into our lives, he continually points us to Jesus. He continually reminds us that we are sinners in need of a Savior and that that Savior is Jesus Christ. When he does faith in Jesus grows, and we draw closer and closer to Him. John speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit… Listen to the voice of promise in the wilderness.

And John’s voice, that voice in the wilderness, is a voice of invitation. You see, his message centers on Christ. Wherever Christ Jesus is proclaimed there is always and invitation, a very gracious invitation from God himself. Maybe we hear it more clearly when John calls out to Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” “Look,” he says, “Here he is. The promised one from God, who will make everything that has been wrong since Adam and Eve right again. Believe in Him!” In this message today, the invitation sound like this; “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Maybe we don’t quite see it because maybe we don’t quite understand what John means by the word ‘repent’. We know that ‘repent’ means to be sorry for our sins, but it doesn’t just mean that. That is a part of it, a very important initial part. But true repentance doesn’t stop there. In its fullest sense it includes being turning around. It means to reach out and grasp a hold with the hand of faith the healing for sin that God offers through Jesus Christ. It involves a new attitude of the heart, a new outlook on life. For sinners who repent, they have a new Lord and Master. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, they are ruled by Jesus Christ, the newborn King. That’s us, we have been declared members of the Kingdom of God, in Holy Baptism, the kingdom has come to us. By faith, through the Holy Spirit, God lives in us making us a new creation. Wherever God is in Jesus Christ there is the kingdom of heaven.

There is a lot to listen to in this voice in the wilderness. It cries out a warning to us. “Repent! Turn from your sin. Get right with God.” It’s a warning all of us should listen to. It also cries out to us with a promise. “Jesus is coming! He is the promised one who makes all things right with God again.” And that voice in the wilderness invites. “Look here at Jesus. He is the King. He comes to bring the kingdom of God to you.” Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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