Text: Matthew 3:1-12
Date: Advent II + 12/5/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
Where did we come from? What was the beginning of creation? “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…. And God said…” (Gen. 1:1, 3). Whether you imagine a big bang or a series of smaller ones the creative force behind the “bang” was this: “and God said,” the Voice, the Word of God. For the Word of God is His creative power in the universe. “In the beginning was the Word.” And this Word is not just a thought but a Person, a power, an action. “Without Him nothing was made that was made.” Everything has its beginning with a Word, with THE Word of God. The greatest mystery is, in every generation, every living thing, every new person born is, ultimately, the result of “and God said, let there be….”
The ruin and fall into sin happened in a similar way. But a different voice, a discouraging word raised doubt of the first Word. “The serpent…said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say..?’” (Gen. 3:1). And with a dark word, a deceitful, lying word everything was changed—naked now, separated, ruined, weed-infested, sick, dying, dead. And that would have been all there was, except even then, right at the beginning, the Voice of God spoke another Word, a judging but gracious Word, a redeeming Word spoken to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he [this Word] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:14-15).
Now in case that is too general, too vague a hope, a chorus of voices followed through the centuries—the goodly fellowship of the prophets from Moses to Malachi, one following another praising God and proclaiming:
- “Abraham, by your seed will all the nations of the earth be blessed” (Gen. 12)
- Isaac, “God Himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Gen. 22:8)
- David, “God Himself will make you a house…I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom” (2 Sam. 7:11-12)
- Isaiah sings, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Is. 7:14)
- “Comfort, comfort my people…a voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God’” (Is. 40:1-3)
- Then, though this kingly Son of promise, this Son of the virgin will grow up, we will esteem him not, for He will bear our griefs and sorrows, “and the Lord will lay on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6)
- The final prophet Malachi sings the last Old Testament recitative, “Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:1).
But did I say “final” prophet? No, there is one more: the Voice promised of old, heard in the concert hall of the wilderness of Judea. It is a chant, unaccompanied except for the desolate sound of desert-water echoing as this Preacher’s Word splashes against the procession of “Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, confessing their sins.”
“Repent” was the word. “Repent” is the word that reverberates on this Advent Sunday. “Turn around…yes again!” “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We already did that.’ In this life, in this wilderness, you’re never done. You’re never done until the wolf dwells with the lamb and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together, until the wilderness and the dry land blossom and rejoice, ‘until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God’ (Eph. 4:13).”
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” “I baptize you with water for repentance,” says the voice, that is, you haven’t really repented until you’ve been baptized! For repentance, like the creative Word, is not just a mental activity, an attitude. It is…well, for one thing IMPOSSIBLE until God the Holy Spirit enters through the mighty Word to create true sorrow of heart over sin and faith in God’s promise of deliverance. The result is that repentance makes for “a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). That newness happens by the coming of the mightier One, whose sandals none are worthy of carrying. For, He baptizes with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The Holy Spirit keeps the flames of repentance, faith and love alive in the redeemed sinner’s heart through the Word, and then will, finally, present all His faithful to the Father, His purified people, clothed with His own righteousness, “to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Small Catechism).
This Sunday we hear the voice, the voice of John the Baptist, the voice of God. We hear his voice calling us back from the cacophony of the other ugly voices of the temptations of the flesh, of the world, and of the devil. For the old Adam in us still tends to all sorts of evil lusts. The world surrounds us daily with hatred and envy, violence, cursing and pride. Then the devil himself incites and provokes us in all directions, above all to despise the Word of God, to tear us away from faith, hope, and love (cf. Large Catechism, Sixth Petition). That our Lord gave us to pray often the petition, “lead us not into temptation,” recalls the Baptist’s call to daily repent and return to the promise of our Baptism.
Repentance isn’t complete until you are baptized. But when you are among the baptized, you are daily repentant. For what has become of John’s baptism? It has become a burial into and with Christ who died for us, and a rising from the dead with Christ who lives. Because you belong to Him by your baptism,
He lives and grants me daily breath;
He lives, and I shall conquer death;
He lives my mansion to prepare;
He lives to bring me safely there. (LSB 461:7)
For it is only because of the death of Jesus that you can hear God borrowing the voice of your pastor both to tell you your sins are forgiven and, because it is God’s creative, mighty Word, to actually give you that forgiveness. Because of the resurrection of Jesus you can bear fruit, the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy and peace, patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
Today we thank God for speaking us into life, for His good creation, but especially His Word of love, our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank God for those He has sent to speak His creative and life-sustaining Word: from Moses to Malachi, John the Baptist to John the Apostle, Martin Luther to C.F.W. Walther to all the pastors who have inspired us, taught us, baptized us, given us Jesus in His body and blood, and who have helped us in tough times and celebrated with us in joyful times. For all these voices we give thanks to God, “with repentant joy we receive the salvation accomplished for us by the all-availing sacrifice” of our Lord’s body and blood on the cross, and “with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 15:6).