Sermon based on Mk 1:1-8 for the Second Sunday in Advent
Dear people preparing for Christmas: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Advent is a time of preparation. Sure, you say. I’m already prepared for Christmas. My tree is up, my lights and decorations are up. I’ve already done most of my Christmas shopping. I have planned my Christmas parties and dinners; I know where to be and when. I know how much food I need to buy and prepare for dinners I’m hosting.
But that’s not quite the preparation that John the Baptist was talking about. John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People came from all over the countryside confessing their sins and receiving forgiveness. John was sent before the face of Jesus to prepare the way for His coming. He preached, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
But this is the very reason we want to skip the season of Advent and jump right into Christmas. We don’t want to confess our sins. We don’t want to repent. We don’t want to truly prepare for Christmas.
We will prepare for Santa Claus. We will prepare for parties. We will prepare for the secular holiday season. But we will not prepare for the coming of the Lord at Christmas.
We find this whole repentance and confession thing repulsive. Even when we confess our sins, we want to hold something back – those sins that we want to cling to. We want to hide our sins instead of confessing them. We either think that we don’t need to confess our sins because they aren’t so bad, or we think that they are so horrible that we cannot bring them to Jesus. We either think that our sins aren’t so hideous or we try to mask our hideousness with the external trappings of the holiday season.
We’ve got our Christmas tree, our cute little baby Jesus in the nativity scene. We’ve got lights and parties. All these are supposed to show our celebration of Christmas, but are we really trying to hide the hideousness of our sins behind these things? Or are these things to distract us from our sins; to distract us from what Christmas really is and from what Advent really is?
Back in the day of John the Baptist, priests were relatively wealthy people. John was from a priestly family, but he chose garments of camel’s hair over priestly robes. He chose wild locusts and honey over the delicacies he might have had. He chose to forego the external trappings of celebration and instead focused on the coming of Christ and the true preparing of His way.
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Let’s not pretend our paths have been straight. Let’s not pretend that we haven’t wandered from God’s Law and made our own paths wherever we wanted to wander. Let’s not mask our sins of thought, word, and deed like the world wants to dress up during Advent.
The church has traditionally dressed down for Advent, just when the world is dressing up. Just when the world is decorating and partying and lighting everything up, the church has dressed things down and turned to sombre reflection and repentance. Even in the liturgy, the Song of Praise is omitted. Alleluias were traditionally omitted. Christmas hymns would not be sung until Christmas Eve. The nativity scene would not have the baby Jesus and the Christmas tree would not be put up until Christmas Eve.
So does this mean that it is sinful to have already decorated for Christmas? Is it wrong to have a Christmas tree up already? Is it wrong to go to Christmas parties early in December? No, no, and no. That’s not the point. The point is that there is a reason why the church has traditionally done exactly the opposite of what the world does. While the world prepares for a holiday season, the church has confessed that we are unable to prepare for Christmas. We are unable to prepare for the coming of Jesus.
As we sung during last week’s Advent service, “O Lord, How Shall I Meet You, How welcome You aright?” The only thing we can do is try to mask our sin or pretend it doesn’t exist. But God sees through our masks. He reads our hearts even better than we read them. We cannot cover our sins; only God can cover sin.
The only way for us to be prepared for the coming of Christ is if our sins are covered. And it is Christ Himself who must cover our sin. So don’t hold sins back or try to mask them as something they are not. Don’t try to dress up your sins like they aren’t so bad. Give your sins to Jesus. Confess your sins and receive forgiveness. Jesus’ death has paid the penalty for all of your sins and has earned you forgiveness.
John the Baptist was the messenger sent before Jesus to prepare the way. In the prophets it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way” (Mal. 3:1 cited in Mark 1:2). How is it that John prepare the way of the Lord? Mark writes that John prepared the way for Jesus by baptizing and preaching. Baptizing and preaching.
Doesn’t everything all of a sudden make sense? All those who heard John’s preaching – they could not prepare the way of the Lord. They could not prepare to receive their Saviour. Jesus sent John to prepare the way. John prepared the way by preaching God’s Word and baptizing.
And Jesus still sends messengers before Him to prepare the way for His coming. And we messengers still do it by preaching the Word and baptizing. Except now it is no longer the baptism of John with water only, but now it is the baptism of Jesus – the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus will return as He has promised. And He wants you to be prepared for His coming, so He sends messengers to preach His Word of repentance to you. He sends pastors who preach His Law to convict you of your sin. Jesus wants you to know His will for your life so that you will repent when you wander from His will. He wants to turn you from your crooked ways to His straight ways. He wants you to stop masking your sins or pretending they doesn’t exist. He wants you to confess your sins and be absolved.
Jesus also sends pastors to absolve you in His stead and by His command. Jesus sends pastors to baptize you in His name so that you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. See, the preparing of the way is done for you. God Himself does it through His Word and Sacraments administered by the mouth and hand of His messengers. His Word turns your hearts away from sin and to Him. His Word of forgiveness covers all of your sins. He has baptized you and made you His own.
So what preparations can you do? All you can do is receive God’s gifts. Hear His Word that He sends to you. Receive the absolution of your sins. Receive the forgiveness of sins that comes in Jesus’ true body and blood. Through these means God prepares you and keeps you in the faith until Christ returns.
Don’t be in a hurry to skip Advent and jump into Christmas early. Advent is a time of preparation and hopeful anticipation. Allow God to prepare you during this Advent through His Word and Sacrament. As we look forward in joyful anticipation to the celebration of Christmas, we also look forward in joyful anticipation to the celebration when Jesus returns.
The season of Advent captures so well what the Church is all about. We know the celebration that is coming soon – the eternal celebration of the Lamb in His kingdom which has no end. We longingly anticipate it. But there is a time right now that the celebration has not yet been realized. We are in this time before Jesus returns. We are in this time of Advent before Christmas.
During this time, as we await the second coming of Christ, He Himself prepares us for His return. He forgives our sins. He feeds us with His body and blood to strengthen us until He comes again.
So, instead of rushing into Christmas, let us look forward with joyful anticipation to the coming celebration – both the celebration of Christ’s first coming and the celebration that will be His second coming. And remember, it is God who prepares you for both. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.