Luke 3: 1-6
Pastor Chris Enstad
Being a Christian follower of Jesus is at the same time the easiest and the hardest thing to be. Easy in that one need merely declare oneself a Christian and there you are, a Christian. Maybe, then, you buy a cross to wear and find a church to attend. And there you are, a Christian.
And for most of us that is where our following ends. I mean yes, we give to the church, we volunteer to make programs and services work but, even then, it is typically around 10 to 20 percent of a congregation’s membership that makes church happen for the other 80 or 90 percent of us.
But, if we show up enough eventually the Word that we are hearing starts to make a claim on us. We start to hear words like repentance, confession, transformation, and purification. And then, one day, at the call of the Holy Spirit, we wake up and realize that hey, that Book, that Bible, those Words that are written in there are talking about things going on out here in the world, they are talking about me and my life. And that’s when things start to get hard, but the work that God calls us to in following his Son, while not easy, is definitely filled with joy and, as we are reminded in our theme for this week, it is a life filled with peace.
Advent is a season of preparation for the coming of Jesus Christ. We spend these weeks making things ready for the birth of Christ. This space is gradually being transformed to the festive and cheerful sanctuary where we will soon sing, “Hallelujah!” Our homes are being transformed as well, our tree is up, the lights are lit, our girls have discovered the thrill of wrapping little presents for each other to the joy of the wrapping paper industry, we discovered that our internet radio station has not just one but eight different 24 hour Christmas music channels from country to family Christmas music all the way to my new favorite “peaceful holidays” channel... yes, our homes are ready for Jesus to come.
But Advent doesn’t exist for any of those reasons. Advent is a season of preparing our own lives for the coming of Christ. We are accustomed to taking all of the good feelings that come with this season and forget one important truth: Christ is coming! Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that “It is very remarkable that we so calmly face the thought that God is coming, whereas people previously trembled at the day of God, and the world fell into trembling when Jesus Christ walked over the earth.”
For you see, God coming so close to us in the form of an infant child was not so that we could gather around his manger and fawn over him, God comes close to us to lay claim to us and to sever our relationships with all of the things of this world that we so falsely believe will give us the security, status and prestige that we long for. And so, yes, while we do get excited about the birth of Christ, this season let us also reconnect with our fears and questions: if you were to hear that Christ was coming to your house tomorrow, that you could expect a knock on your front door, what would your first reaction be?
Listen to how Luke sets it up for us today: In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Traconitis and Lysanias rulers of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas... the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in. the. wilderness.
Luke firmly roots this story not only in the historical facts of who was ruling and when, but after this long list of the high and mighty, naming the political and religious elite, he then, pulls our gaze away from Jerusalem to the woods. Not to Caiaphas and Annas the high priests, but to John, the son of... who? Zechariah?
And, John began to preach, he preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight.”
God is coming near, today is the day to prepare your hearts and your lives for his arrival. What in your life needs straightening out? What valleys of resentments do you need to fill up with the love and grace of God? What mountains of ego and accomplishment need to be leveled out in the perspective that it isn’t about you and that we can’t all exist together if we are all at the center of our own little universes?
That’s where my thoughts go when I hear that Jesus is about to arrive, the fully human fully divine Son of God coming near to us in the form of the exact opposite of what we would expect from God, not another mighty ruler, not another religious elite, an infant child, sent to us in judgment, God’s judgment that we cannot be saved on our own. We need help.
But, then, we give thanks for in coming to us as one of us God’s judgment on us came also with a gift, a gift of salvation wrapped up in the body and the blood of this little baby boy. We do not have to do this stuff alone for we now know that God is with us.
And that, my friends, is Advent, the coming of the Lord. That’s why Carrie and I love the joy in our girls’ faces when they hang the ornaments on the tree and sing Christmas carols and are nearly popping out of their bodies counting down the days until Christmas, but it is also why, after they are asleep, we catch ourselves sitting by that same tree with a different kind of joy, the joy of knowing that through all of our struggles in this last year since the last time the tree was up, God has also showered us with all sorts of goodness. And we know that if Christ knocks on the doors of our home or the doors of our hearts, we would turn and see that yes, it is still pretty messy in our house and it is definitely messy in our hearts and yet we will open our doors regardless to worship the God of judgment and mercy.
May our Church reflect those same truths, may our mission and ministries be done in the fervent expectation that we do them always to be ready for Christ to come again, and may we find ways to open our doors to Christ who comes to us unlike anything we could expect, may we welcome him into our homes, into our church, and into our life together.