Sermon Advent 2 -Year C
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from the God who comes to save us. Amen.
Not once upon a time, but….
At a precise moment in time….at a precise moment in history….
When Barack Obama and Joe Biden were finishing their first term as president and vice president;
when Dave Heinemann was governor of Nebraska;
when Adrian Smith served the 3rd congressional district;
when Jim Snow was mayor of St. Paul;
and Mark Hanson was Bishop of the ELCA and Brain Maas was newly elected Bishop of Nebraska
– the Word of God came to the people of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in St. Paul, Nebraska.
Luke, our gospel writer for this year, set out to write an orderly account. He cared about the details. He listed five political rulers and two priests who were in charge, when the Word of God came to John the Baptist.
Luke was an historian. Telling exactly when things happened is important to an historian. Placing John the Baptist and Jesus precisely in human history is one of the gifts we receive from Luke.
The political leaders and religious leaders were very important people in their time. Luke names everyone who was anyone from the Emperor on down. His first readers knew something about each of the seven people he listed.
Most of us have only heard of a few of them because of the parts they played at the end of Jesus’ life. We never would have heard of any of them except for their relationship to Jesus.
We do know John the Baptist, though. We know John because the Word of God came to John. That is first piece of good news in this gospel lesson.
John was the son of an assistant priest and his elderly wife. He was the child of a couple who were thought to be barren. He was nobody special compared to the emperor and governor and all the rest.
Yet Luke makes the claim that John the Baptist is even more important than all these figures. John is important because the Word of God came to him. John is important because he proclaims the coming of Christ.
The Word of God that came to John was this: We are to prepare the way for the One who is to come.
The One who is coming is bringing our salvation. That is the second piece of good news in this lesson today. The One who is coming is worth preparing for.
Our children are coming home this Christmas. We are very excited to have them visit us again here in St. Paul. Their visit is so important to us that we are preparing for it.
They are important enough that we (By we, I mostly mean Dave) will clean and decorate the house. We will do the laundry so the towels are fresh. We will prepare their favorite foods. We will plan fun activities we can all do together. We will have gifts for them.
Their arrival is special because they are the most important people in our lives and we will prepare carefully for them to come here.
When someone special is arriving, we must prepare. John the Baptist tells us to prepare – to prepare for the coming of the One who brings our salvation. He tells us that the One who is coming is worth preparing for.
John tells us how to prepare for the Lord. We must prepare through forgiveness and repentance. Repentance means turning your life around. Repentance means setting off in a new direction, the right direction this time.
When John was born, his father Zechariah was finally able to use his voice for the first time since he doubted the angel’s prophecy that he would have a son. After naming his son John, Zechariah sings a song of praise to God. That song is our psalm (and our communion hymn) today.
Zechariah helps us understand what forgiveness and repentance look like. Although it seems backwards from what we expect, forgiveness comes before repentance.
That’s right, forgiveness comes first. God saves us and forgives our sins. We do not or cannot earn God’s forgiveness by saying we are sorry.
It isn’t like kindergarten where you are supposed to forgive the kid who took your toy because the teacher made her say she was sorry.
God is gracious by nature. God forgives first. There is nothing God wants more than to be in relationship with us. You know what you did, or or what you didn’t do that you should have done. God has already forgiven you.
Repentance follows forgiveness. Repentance is part of the longing we have to turn our lives around and live as the people God wants us to be. Repentance is hard work.
God is good, but we are sinners and we keep forgetting and getting lost and going the wrong way.
Repentance is the preparation we do to welcome Christ. It isn’t just a kindergarten version of “Sooooorrrry.” It isn’t a moping around, beating yourself up for what you did, feeling guilty all the time thing either.
Repentance is turning your back on the past and going in the right direction. It is not just that we make any old pathway for God – we need to be sure the road is pointing the right way.
The last thing we want to do is pave the road to the wrong place with our good intentions. Zechariah tells us we will know we are on the right road because it is the road that leads to peace.
You will know that you are paving the right road when the crooked things in your life get straightened out. I don’t know what those things might be, but you do.
You will know you are paving the right road when the rough places become smoother. You know where the rough places are, too.
Preparing a pathway for God is long, hard work. It doesn’t end at Christmas either. It is worth it though. Because the One who is coming is bringing our salvation.
As Paul said, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
At a precise moment in time…at a precise moment in history…
The Word of God comes to the people of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in St. Paul – and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.