Second Sunday in Advent
December 6, 2009
“Repentance Road Repair” (Luke 3:1-14)
Tomorrow the road repair will be finished, and the highway will reopen, better than ever. I’m talking about Interstate 64 in St. Louis, or, as many of the locals still call it, “Highway 40.” The road is all straight and smooth now, all the way from Spoede to Kingshighway. The rough spots have been filled in, the crooked stretches have been straightened out, the perennial bottlenecks and traffic jams all have been accounted for and remedied. A lot of thought and effort, a lot of time and expense, went into making these improvements. The I-64 project was inconvenient and costly: First there was a long process of study and analysis, followed by two years of shutdowns, road construction, and alternate routes, and it all cost a total of over $500 million dollars. But the end result will be a roadway much more suitable to use.
My friends, Advent is like a road repair project. It’s inconvenient and costly, but it results in a road much more suitable for our Lord to come to us on, a highway fit for a king. John the Baptist comes calling during Advent, and he calls us to prepare the way of the Lord. And that means to repair the way of the Lord. Advent is a time for “Repentance Road Repair.”
Our text is the Holy Gospel for this day, from Luke 3. John the Baptist arrives on the scene, and he comes “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In his preaching of repentance, as the advance man for Christ, John fulfills the ancient prophecy, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
The picture is that of preparing for the arrival of a great king. The word goes forth that the king is coming. He’s on his way to visit a certain town or village. And in advance of his arrival, the people want to make sure that everything is in tip-top shape for his coming to their town. The roads leading into the city get a thorough inspection, looking for any bumps or rough spots that need to be repaired. The crews are dispatched to get all things ready. The people want to give the king a fitting welcome to their fair city.
That’s how it is for us. Our king is on his way. Jesus is coming at Christmas. Jesus is coming again, at the Last Day, and that could be any day now, we don’t know when. In any case, Jesus comes to us time and time again, every time he comes to us in his Word and Sacrament. Therefore it is fitting that we make ready our hearts and lives for our king. And this calls for repentance, fixing up those rough places in our lives, doing the repair work necessary to prepare the way of the Lord.
This repair work can be inconvenient and costly, but Advent gives us the time to do this, a season of preparation and repair in advance of Christmas. But you know, that makes it extra inconvenient for us, doesn’t it, precisely because it is so close to Christmas. The world is telling us, “Hey! It’s Christmas! Time for shopping malls and Christmas specials and office parties! Let’s have fun! Let’s celebrate! Have a holly, jolly Christmas, and forget about that old, stuffy Advent repentance stuff. Nobody’s doing that anymore! Really, there are no more sins to repent of anyway. We’ve done away with the whole ‘sin’ concept, and there’s no ‘God’ to repent to, either. No, it’s Christmas, the fun one, the one without God in it.”
That’s what the world is telling us. “Don’t let Advent ruin your Christmas.” But today I would like to turn that around: Don’t let Christmas ruin your Advent! Don’t let the world’s celebration of their Christmas ruin your observance of Advent as a time for penitential preparation. This is still a time for road repair, and the ribbon-cutting is still a ways off. Take this time, use this time, to do the reflection and renovation that the Lord would have you do in your life.
And don’t let it be too general, either. Let’s get specific with our sins. That’s what John the Baptist did, when he called the people to repentance. He didn’t just say, “Repent. You’re sinful. Be sorry. Try harder. Have a nice day.” No, John got specific with what repentance would look like. It would mean certain definite changes in behavior, according to a person’s particular calling in life. Our text records: “And the crowds asked him, ‘What then shall we do?’ And he answered them, ‘Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.’ Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, ‘Teacher, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Collect no more than you are authorized to do.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what shall we do?’ And he said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.’”
You see, here is the specific application of the call to repentance in people’s lives. Earlier we heard the general principle: “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways.” Now we see the specific application. For example, “Every valley shall be filled,” that is, every lack and low spot shall be filled up, filled with acts of love–that takes the specific form of “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” The general principle, “the crooked shall become straight,” takes the form of the tax collectors not acting in crooked ways: “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” “The rough places shall become level ways” takes the specific form of the rough soldiers not extorting money by threats or false accusation. Do you see how it works?
What are the specific areas in your life that need road work, work to be done this Advent? Are there particular recurring sins that you know you should be dealing with? How should you be changing your thoughts and speaking and behavior? This is a time for Advent assessment and analysis. You know, before the road crews in St. Louis took a jackhammer to the highway, the engineers first did a careful study and analysis of what needed to be changed. So in the same way, examine your life in the light of God’s commandments. What are the rough spots that need to be smoothed out? Is it in how you speak and act toward others, perhaps treating them in a thoughtless and harsh manner? Are there crooked ways that need to be straightened out? Is it in how you cut corners and make “minor” adjustments to the truth, in this or that situation? Are there low spots, potholes that need to be filled in? Is it in your lack of love in practical ways when you see a neighbor in need? Friends, let your repentance road repair not stay stuck on the drawing board, but rather ask God’s help in putting the necessary changes into action.
You know, it seems you and I are content to confess our sins if all it amounts to is saying, “I, a poor, miserable sinner,” and we don’t get anymore specific than that. But the truth of the matter is, poor miserable sinners do poor miserable sins. And those sins have names. They take specific shape. It’s all the good stuff we fail to do, like helping our neighbor and acting kindly and teaching our children the Bible. And it’s all the bad stuff we should not do, like the unhealthy programs we watch and the cheating and the lying and the angry yelling at our family members. These are things we need to deal with–really act on and work on and change, with God’s help–never giving up, but getting up every time we slip back and fall. God forgives you your sins, and he picks you up and helps you to do this repentance repair work, which he absolutely wants you to do.
Yes, when we talk about repentance, and we hear the call to repentance and our need to get serious about these changes in our lives, let us never forget the forgiveness that goes with it. John the Baptist came proclaiming a baptism of repentance “for the forgiveness of sins.” And with the call to prepare the way of the Lord comes the gracious promise, “and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” That’s where this road is leading. To forgiveness! To the gospel! The way is being prepared for the coming of our Lord. And he comes bringing salvation, salvation straight from the throne of God. God the Father is sending us his Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We want to welcome him with a highway suitable for such a wonderful king. That’s what Advent is all about. It’s not just us groveling in the dirt because we know we should feel guilty. Rather, we who know God’s grace in Christ know that God wants to forgive our sins. So let’s give them to the Lord, because he will forgive them. And he will also help us to live in ways that give glory to our Savior.
“For the forgiveness of sins.” “All flesh shall see the salvation of God.” That’s why Christ came, to win for us that forgiveness, to bring us that salvation. The way he took to do that was the way of the cross. The little child born at Bethlehem came in human flesh to be our brother, so he could live the life we ought to live and suffer the punishment we deserve for our sins, in our place. This he accomplished by his death on the cross. This is the victory declared by his resurrection from the dead. This is the salvation that awaits us when he comes again. And this is the salvation and the forgiveness into which you have been baptized.
“Prepare the way of the Lord.” Repair the way of the Lord. The King is coming, and therefore Advent is the time for some serious–and inconvenient and costly, but much needed–repentance road repair in our lives. Don’t let Christmas ruin your Advent. Let Advent be Advent. Take the time to do the self-examination you need, and let it be specific. Ask God’s help in making the changes you know you should make. And let’s help one another in that regard, family members being honest and humble with one another, seeking forgiveness and repairing relationships. Let the low places be filled in, the rough places smoothed out, and the crooked places straightened. Let this be a real Advent.
The King is coming! The King is on his way! He comes for you, dear Christian, to bless you and forgive you and save you, purely out of his great kindness and mercy. And when he comes again, then there will be the grand ribbon-cutting and the open road ahead, stretching all the way into eternity–the true Kingshighway, the highway to heaven!