Second Sunday of Advent, 10 December 2006
WE NEED TO CHANGE?
We are in the sixth year of the presidency of George W. Bush. We are in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. American military personnel are in over 30 countries of the world. America believes, right or wrong, that its way of life, particularly our form of democracy is what every country of the world should have. It believes that then the great ideal of America can be reached by all. All people then will have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We believe we can, through force and other means, get other countries to do what we do, to live with the freedom we have in our democratic country. We seem absolutely dedicated to the belief that by having the right kind of political system, all will be well with us and in other countries.
In whatever year it was that John the Baptizer got his call from God to be a prophet, the imperial government in Rome believed that its way of life was the one that benefited the whole world. If you would just follow the leadership of Rome, all would be well in your world. It did not hesitate to use its military to impose its belief on others.
It was in that time that the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas at God’s Holy Temple in Jerusalem believed that if you followed God’s instructions about living and worship practices you would be right with God. All then would be right with your spiritual or religious world, or whatever you call that part of your life.
It was in the wilderness by the river Jordan, some several miles from Jerusalem that this person, John, son of Zechariah, got started talking about something that, believe it not, you and I who have come 20 plus centuries later need to get into. As the angel of the Lord has promised his father Zechariah, “many of the people of Israel will he [John] bring back to the Lord their God, and he will go on before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the way of the righteous — to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
John did this by going around preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was getting the people prepared for the Lord, for Jesus. He knew that the people had to get a new way of thinking and acting. His mission was to get people to change their minds about how to meet God because he sure was coming. And he sure is coming, isn’t he?
Get ready! Get ready by knowing your sins, by getting forgiveness for the sins and by changing your mind about yourself in relationship to God. As a sign that you are prepared to meet the coming Lord, get washed, away with the old. It’s a new day!
What do we need to change? As we think about our relationship with God , what do we need to change? It might well be that what we need to change is a basic need. We can’t get in touch with God by ourselves.
We need help.
If you are anything like me, I would like to think that I can manage things all by myself, that I really don’t need others. Sure it’s fine “others” are around me, but most things I can still handle by myself.
You and I don’t make too many mistakes, do we? We lead pretty good lives. We let a little of our change tingle into the Red Bucket of the Salvation Army at this time of year. We may have donated a coat for some kids without one, a new toy for Blue Santa (or whatever color!).
We’re here, at church, today, aren’t we? God does want us to hear his word and we’re doing it! We’re singing our hearts out. We’re giving everybody a hug. We’re must be giving enough because there doesn’t seem to be a shortage that we’ve been told about.
Yeah, Ok, sure, we don’t have a totally “sin” free life, but, you know what? If we just try we can even stop doing those things and start doing what we should. But, listen, we can do it!
Change? Me, change? Why? There’s lots of folks ole’ John could preach to, but I can do it all by myself.
John’s message was, “You can’t!” I can’t. How ever hard I try I can’t measure up. How ever hard I try to do right, I can’t. Most of us can’t even get the Christmas gifts right. Too much for one; too little for another. We never walk away from Christmas and know all have been treated fairly.
And then when it comes to God, I need to change. I need to remember I can’t get it right with God by myself. But the good news for you is that God can and has.
You see, you and I don’t need God if we can do it all by ourselves.
Oh, we may lament how pagan our society has become by outlawing display of the Bethlehem scene, and the singing in public places of Christmas carols. We may lament that our politically correct public greeting is to be “happy holidays.” But do we really need to be saved by the Savior of the world?
Do we need forgiveness for sins? Yes, I need help. We celebrate the coming festival because it is the beginning of help coming to us and for us. It is peace coming to us whom God would despise without Jesus.
It is good news that needs to wash over us and take away the spirit of self-determination, the belief in me, in our society that we know what is right and we are doing it.
John is doing what the man of God, Isaiah, who was a prophet some 600 years before John showed up said he would do. He would level the playing field. Valleys would be filled. Mountains leveled. The crooked would be straightened and the bumps would be smoothed out.
Sounds like confession to me and, even better, the absolution where we receive forgiveness. Every Sunday we come to get ourselves leveled.
If we think we are the high and mighty, confession tells us we are all the same. If our sins make us think we have no value and are the pits,
the absolution tells us God loves even our condition and brings us up to God’s waiting arms of love. If we had gotten so entangled that we don’t know how we will ever escape the tangled web of sin we have woven, Jesus cuts through it all and tells us we’re straight with God because of the cross and death and resurrection.
And this message from God that comes to us in Jesus is for all. All will see salvation coming to them in Jesus. It’s not going to pass you by unless, well, unless you believe we don’t have to change, or believe we are doing it all all right.
John’s message was to prepare people for Jesus’ arrival on the scene.
Advent is the time we get to prepare for Jesus’ arrival on the scene.
The world believes it can produce goodness all by itself. The person listening to the man by the Jordan River hears a very different message. There appears to be two messages: one of self-righteousness and one of total dependence on God for salvation. Do we need to change? Do we get the right message?
May we have seen salvation! Amen.
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor