Prepared to See God’s Salvation (Luke 3:1-6)
Second Sunday in Advent (December 5, 2021)
This coming Tuesday, as many of you, I’m sure, are quite well aware, is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. The tragedy of that event became a rallying cry for our American GI’s. “Remember Pearl Harbor!” they would cry. Remember it we should. It was a day when America was caught with her pants down, so to speak. We vowed never again to be caught so off guard but to be prepared for any and every attack.
As has become all so painfully clear over the decades since Pearl Harbor, being prepared to defend ourselves against approaching enemies has proven to be a much more formidable task than perhaps any of even our leaders could have imagined. 9-11 alone has taught us that our enemies do not need big massive missiles and bombs to cause great casualties among us. Our current Covid pandemic has reminded us that our enemies are not always necessarily human but can and do come in all sorts of forms and entities. The upheaval in our cities has also made us all painfully aware that our enemies are not always foreign, but can even be of our own.
No matter the enemy the best defense is proper preparation. That means we all benefit from being instructed in knowing just who or what are our real enemies, how to recognize them and the danger they pose to us, as well as what is necessary for us to do in order to protect ourselves from them.
Let me just give this warning, then, at the outset; there are truly billions of lives at stake right now in our community, in our nation, and in our world on account of a fundamental lack of preparedness. I’m speaking, of course, of something much graver than terrorism, foreign invasion by China or Russia, or even a new pandemic. You see, the most critical, imminent; and, in fact, truly existential threat all people face is the eternal judgment of Holy God.
It is a tragedy beyond all proportions when a person ends up in hell simply he or she was not prepared to know what to look for. In the face of God’s righteous judgment against sinners, we all need to be prepared to see and embrace the salvation from the wrath to come that God graciously sends us in Jesus Christ.
No human being intuitively knows about God’s salvation nor is equipped to see it, even if Jesus Christ Himself were standing right in front of him. Scripture plainly tells us that all people conceived and born into this world are spiritually blind. Sin has completely dulled our spiritual senses and blinded our spiritual eyes.
It has left us, therefore, susceptible to every lie and falsehood that lead us to look for a different god than the true God and a different salvation than the one God offers us in Christ. One needs to be prepared by God to see the true way to life.
Even Israel, God’s Old Covenant People, needed such preparation. At the time the events of our text from Luke’s Gospel took place, Israel had become blind and deaf to the light of the knowledge of salvation. God’s plan to send the “Seed of the Woman,” to crush the head of the serpent and win for sinners forgiveness and life had been obscured by human tradition and human speculation.
The Jews were deaf even to their own prophets, who spoke of a Messiah to come, Who would be bruised for their iniquities. (Is. 53) They had convinced themselves that they would be saved from the coming wrath of God by their bloodlines. They falsely put their hope in the fact that they were blood descendants of Abraham, to whom God had made all of His promises. On top of this many were also looking to their own keeping of God’s Law to make them righteous in God’s sight.
Amidst all these false and delusional notions, the truth of Jesus was hard for anyone to recognize. Therefore, God needed to send someone to prepare the way for His Son. It was time to send another prophet to His people, a prophet who would tell them like it is and rightly prepare them.
Enter John, the Son of Zechariah. Luke records, “The Word of God came to John Son of Zechariah in the desert.” John was the son of one of Israel’s priests, but John was certainly not part of the “establishment.” The Word of God came to him in the “desert”, not the opulence of the Jerusalem temple nor in the board rooms of the ruling religious leaders. His message was not the concoction of some Jewish political action committee, but straight from God.
John was himself the subject of both the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah. He was to be God’s messenger (angel) to prepare the people to recognize and welcome the coming Savior. He was to be “the voice crying in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight paths for Him.” Through the words of God that John proclaimed, the people would be given spiritual eyes to see the true salvation God was sending them in Jesus.
John’s task, however, was clearly not easy. The people of Israel were a most rebellious and stubborn lot. They had one-by-one killed all of God’s earlier prophets. Sadly, John was to face the same fate. He was eventually thrown into prison and beheaded by the Tetrarch Herod. The ruling party of the Jews were especially stubborn to resist God’s plan of salvation. They preferred their own. “Send us a Messiah Who crushes our Roman captors!” they cried. “Send us a King who recognizes our great achievements and rewards us with salvation because of our meticulous keeping of Your Law.”
God was not offering Israel through John’s ministry simply some kind of revival of morals. John was not sent to simply scold people for their sins or to make moral giants out of them. The goal of John’s ministry was to bring people into the forgiveness of sins. Only there would they see the salvation of God. He preached the fire and brimstone” of God’ Law, so that his hearers might see their sin and need for the kind of Salvation Jesus was offering them. Such preaching of Law had the effect of bringing low the mountains of their arrogant and boastful hearts. Then He preached to them the Good News of God’s grace and mercy that God was giving them in His Servant... His coming Son. Along the banks of the Jordan, John pointed to Jesus and said: “Behold the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.” He even gave them the opportunity to receive that forgiveness of sins in the waters of Baptism. Through this proclamation of Good News, God was filling in the valleys of people’s depravity.
John’s unconventional dress and lifestyle drew attention to his message. He had come in the vein of God’s Old Testament prophet Elijah. His dining on locusts and wild honey, as well as his cloak of camel’s hair, set the teeth of the Emily Posts and Martha Stewarts of his contemporary society on edge. But it coincided with the message God gave him to proclaim; a message which was, more than unconventional, it was politically incorrect. It’s a message, which by design, leads people to reject what is worldly and embrace that which is heavenly.
The spiritual landscape has not changed much in our present day. Even though God’s Son has already come, born of Mary, and accomplished His atoning work for sinners, people are still stubbornly resisting the truth. They prefer darkness to the Light.
Even in our country, where the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been given free reign to be preached, many people still do not recognize Jesus for who He truly is, nor do they embrace Him in faith as their Savior. Instead, many are still choosing to follow after other pagan gods. Believe it or not, the fastest growing religion in U.S.A. is no religion at all. It is Atheism. Our secularist society has taken the two most significant celebrations of Christ’s coming into the world, His birth and His death and resurrection, and has gutted them of any salvific value. They have been made into nothing but winter and spring holidays. Christ’s name is being removed from Christmas. In many public buildings, places, or school systems, pictures of Jesus or crosses, or even the display of Nativity scenes are forbidden. But, at the same time, Jewish symbols such as the Menorah or Muslim religious symbols like sword and crescent moon are allowed to be displayed. On top of this, even in Christian churches less and less is being preached about the need for repentance and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. In its place is an emphasis on showing forth your faith and doing all the right things, as if it is our good works and merit that will save us.
We need a John to come again today to prepare our land and our world for the coming Savior. Should we look for God to send another man in a camel’s hair coat, eating locusts and wild honey? He sure would have everyone’s attention! But I’m afraid he would be quickly branded a lunatic and his message charged as being exclusionary, too radical and unloving and clearly not woke enough.
But wait a minute! John was sent preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. God’s message of repentance and forgiveness has not changed. Neither has His program of preparing sinners to receive the coming Savior through the preaching of Law and Gospel and the administering of Holy Baptism.
God has also left in the world His voice to be crying out in the wilderness. He has left, us, His Church, here! Has He not appointed us His priests, “to preach the Gospel to every creature,” (Mark 16) “To make disciples of all nations,”(Matt. 28) “to declare the wonderful deeds of Him who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light?” (I Pet. 2:9)
You and I, as members of Christ’s Body the church, have been given the same politically incorrect and out of vogue message and agenda as John. God has left us in the wilderness of this world with His Word and Holy Sacraments to enable all people to be prepared to see the salvation of God. Yes, we also will appear odd to our world because of the message of Christ. After all, as Jesus said, “They will hate you because they hated Me.” We are in the world but not of it. We are of Christ. No doubt, we will be chastised as being out of touch and weird. Like John, when we proclaim the truth of Christ we will step on toes. However, the purpose of our presence in Custer County is not to provide our community with another social club or to get everyone to like us. But we are to be that voice crying out in the wilderness. The goal of all our preaching, teaching, baptizing, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Lutheran Classical School, like John, is to bring sinners, into the forgiveness of sins that all might be prepared to meet our Coming Lord.
But we can’t do this if we leave people with the impression that there are other ways of salvation than Jesus… or that somehow they’re saved by their good works ... or that their unrepentant lifestyles of adultery, drunkenness, homosexuality, or idolatry don’t matter ... or all they hear from us is about God’s love but not the atoning blood of Christ. We can’t enable anyone to see the Savior if we don’t speak the truth in love to our neighbors and if we don’t invite them to meet the Savior in His Word at church.
John’s preaching of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins came in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar... when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea ..... when the three sons of Herod the Great ruled a divided Israel ...... and also when Caiaphas, and his father-in-law, Annas, were High Priests. In other words, The Word of God did not come in a vacuum but to real people... in a real time .... and in a real place to prepare people’s hearts to see the salvation of God in Jesus Christ.
At this time when our president is Joe Bidden, when Greg Gianforte is ruling the state of Montana, and while Matthew Harrison is the President of LCMS and Rev. Terry Forke is president of our Montana District, and during this Advent and Christmas season of 2021, it is an excellent time for the Word of God to come among us so that we might be prepared to see the salvation of God in our coming Lord Jesus Christ. It is the opportune moment of the year, amidst all the secular festivities that have become such tradition at this Yule Tide season, which do nothing but obscure the Christ of Christmas; that, through our worship services... our greeting cards... our well wishes ... our decorations, we call people to turn from following falsehoods and myths to turn instead to the truth of Jesus Christ. What a time to help others see that the Bethlehem manger was not simply the location of a Christmas tale to delight them, but that it served to hold the Christ that saves them.
Yes, let us make this a time of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ so that every heart is truly prepared to give Christ room and heaven and nature are truly made to sing the song of salvation! Amen.