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The Tabernacling God December 25, 2014

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Zephaniah 3:14-17

Christmas Day

December 25, 2014

 

Focus:  God dwells in the midst of His people.

Function:  That the hearers never again fear evil.

Structure:  Here is the historical situation of the text, here is the meaning for us now.

 

The Tabernacling God

 

It might seem a little strange, but I want to talk about fear today.  Here we are gathered together, God’s children, rejoicing and celebrating Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Savior…and yet, we’re going to talk about fear.

Fear is part of our brokenness as sinners.  We get scared, we worry, we’re anxious.  And in most of those cases, the fear comes from one of two places. We fear being alone.  And we fear the unknown.

When we’re afraid, it’s good for us to seek out others.  For many of us, that’s even our normal reaction to fear…we seek out people that we love.  Think back to your childhood with me.  Think of those dark and stormy nights when you were just a little kid.  The winds were howling, you were afraid that like the Big Bad Wolf, they’d huff and puff and blow your house down!

Then there was the lightning, those brilliantly terrifying flashes of light in the midst of darkness.  And for whatever reason, every time the sky flashed, there would be this tremendous roar of thunder.  You quaked under your covers.  You tried to ride out the storm, you tried to ride out your fear alone.

But as the winds continued to howl, as the storm raged on, and perhaps even a siren began to blare, the fear was too much to bear alone.  So what did you do?  You climbed out of bed, or crawled out from under the bed, and you ran where?  Straight to Mom and Dad.  You ran into their bedroom, screaming, crying, so afraid of what was going on just outside the window.

Maybe you had stern parents, who told you there was nothing to fear and just to go back to bed.  But more than likely, they welcomed you.  They were tired, they were probably asleep, but they welcomed you.  Maybe they held you or cuddled with you.  Maybe they sang to you so loudly you’d only hear their voice instead of the howls of the wind.  Maybe they even let you climb into bed and stay with them until the storm passed.  Fear not, you’re not alone!

Other times in life bring about fear.  Perhaps you’ve lost your job and you’re afraid of how you’ll make ends meet, you’re afraid of how you’ll care for yourself and your family.  Or maybe you or someone you love have been diagnosed with cancer or a life-threatening disease and now suddenly there’s this fear of the unknown, of what the next few months will bring.

In times like these, there’s a temptation to continue to fight it alone.  The idea that you have to be strong for yourself.  But that’s not the way we were made.  God didn’t make isolated creatures.  God made a family.  And when we share these hurts, when we share these fears with our loved ones, whether they’re family or friends, we feel better.  Maybe the fear isn’t gone, but you’re not alone anymore.

This brings us to a beautiful verb that you may have never heard before.  The word is “tabernacling.”  And that’s what our God is all about.  The Old Testament tabernacle was more than just a tent.  It was sign, it was a symbol, it was a reminder that Yahweh was in their midst.

As the Israelites wandered around in the wilderness, and even for a while after they settled down, they had the tabernacle.  Let me give you an aerial view, as that helps us see what this is all about.

First you have the outer walls, so a big rectangle.  And remember, this is all portable, they could take it down, move it, and set it up again the next time they made camp somewhere.  Then inside the large rectangle, they set up a smaller tent.  In that tent you had the holy place where there was an altar for incense, a lampstand, the table of presence with bread on it.  And then there was a curtain, dividing it from another room.  That room was the most holy place, or the holy of holies.

In that room sat the Ark of the Covenant.  You’ve probably seen pictures, you’ve probably seen Indiana Jones, but let me tell you a little bit more about this ark.  Sure it was a box, holding memories of the great things God did for them.  Inside were the Ten Commandments, those two stone tablets Moses had chiseled on the mountain.  Then there was a jar of manna, to remind them of how God provided for them and fed them in the wilderness.  And then there’s Aaron’s staff, fully budded with flowers, harkening back to a time where God had reminded them He was with them.  Fear not, you’re not alone!

But the ark was more than just a box.  Have you ever seen old pictures or a movie with kings, queens, or emperors being carried by their people?  They’d have this chair, with slots on the sides for long poles and then multiple people would lift the chair up and literally carry their leader.  The Ark of the Covenant had those slots, it had those poles.  And the lid of the ark was called the mercy seat of God.  It wasn’t a box, it was God’s throne.

So as we zoom back out: here’s the throne, here’s the most holy place and the holy place inside the tent.  Then there’s the outer wall, and then beyond the wall, God told His people to camp.  There were twelve tribes, and they were to camp three tribes to the north, three to the west, three to the south and three to the east.

Do you see it?  From our aerial view, do you see what God was doing?  His throne was literally in the middle, in the midst of His people.  It was a reminder to them that He was right there with them, right there in their midst, providing for them, leading them.  Fear not, you’re not alone!

The tabernacle was where God dwelled in the midst of His people.  And that’s the definition of tabernacling, that’s what makes it such a beautiful word!  God tabernacled in the midst of His people, He was dwelling right here with us.  Such a powerful thing, such a wonderful thing!

When we were afraid of the storm, when we ran to Mom and Dad, it was more than just the relationship that helped us.  It was tabernacling!  They were right there with us.  Their presence made things better.  Fear not, you’re not alone!

God’s presence in the midst of His people did just that.  He provided for them, He took care of them.  He defeated and defended against their enemies.  He literally led the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  God was their leader as He tabernacled with them.  That was a beautiful thing.

Unfortunately, in our sin, we kicked God out.  We told Him we wanted a king to lead us instead.  We told Him we wanted to worship idols instead.  We told Him we didn’t need Him, that we could do this alone.  And we kicked Him out.

Until, that is, He tabernacled with us again.  That’s the beauty of Christmas.  That’s the beauty of this little baby boy born to the virgin Mary.  God tabernacling with His people.  Despite our sin, despite our worship of idols, God sent His Son into our midst.  God sent His Son to dwell among us and to lead us.

Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter of Jerusalem!
15 Yahweh has taken away the judgments against you;
He has cleared away your enemies.
The King of Israel, Yahweh, is in your midst;
you shall never again fear evil.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
“Fear not, O Zion;
let not your hands grow weak.
17 Yahweh your God is in your midst,
a mighty One who will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness;
He will quiet you by His love;
He will exult over you with loud singing.

 

The words of the prophet Zephaniah are truly beautiful.  He spoke to an exiled people, to a people who were afraid because they’d lost their homes, they’d lost their hope, they were alone.  But Zephaniah told the people that they would once again have the tabernacling God in their midst.  And that prophecy came true.

God did not abandon them, despite their wicked ways.  God has not abandoned us, despite our wicked ways.  Jesus, our King, is in our midst.  And He provides.  In His death and in His resurrection, He has provided all that we need, He has provided us with forgiveness and life.

Once again, He is tabernacling with us.  His presence, like parents to a child on a stormy night, His presence with us removes all need for fear.  The devil can’t overcome Christ, sin and death have no power over the risen Lord.  So fear not, you’re not alone!  And that’s a beautiful thing indeed!  Merry Christmas!

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The Law and Gospel of Immanuel December 24, 2014

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Isaiah 7:10-14

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2014

 

Focus:  God sent a Savior for His people.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the good news of their Immanuel.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

The Law and Gospel of Immanuel

 

When I was in high school, I remember one of our talent shows.  In between acts, they always had a little humor to help you transition, whether it was the emcee telling a joke, or a student running across the stage, there was always something.   And in between one set of acts, a student walked on stage holding a big sign that said, “Man Eating Tiger.”  And then a boy walked across the stage chewing on a stuffed tiger.

It’s all about how you hear it.  Even the sweetest words can be heard in a negative way.  In my German class, we always joked around about how the language sounded.  Maybe it was all the guttural sounds, but for some reason, the language is deeper.  Ich liebe dich!  It means “I love you.”  But if you don’t know that, I might just sound angry.

Language is a funny thing.  The same word or the same phrase can be heard differently by different people.  As I stand up here and preach a sermon, each of you might hear it in a different way.

It’s even true of the gospel.  How do you hear it?  Do you hear God’s precious words to you as gospel, or do you hear them as law?  Let me give you an example.  Let’s look back to our Old Testament reading.

Now my confirmation students are experts on the history surrounding this text, but let’s go over it anyway to help you understand what God is doing through Isaiah with the King.  God’s people, His chosen and holy people, were the nation of Israel.  First ruled by God Himself, then they asked for a king to lead them, so they could be just like all the other nations.  So God gave them Saul.  After Saul, they had David, and then it was David’s son Solomon.

But when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam made a treacherous mistake.  And ten of the twelve tribes of Israel abandoned him and chose Jeroboam as their king instead.  So in the year 932 BC, the kingdom was divided.  The two tribes that stayed with Rehoboam became known as the nation of Judah, and Jeroboam ruled over the other ten tribes, calling his nation Israel.

Over the next two centuries, war was common between Israel and Judah, they just didn’t like each other.  And so as we fast forward two hundred years to the year 736 BC, we now see Ahaz, king of Judah.  And there’s a war brewing.

Israel has partnered with the country of Aram and was planning to attack Ahaz and overthrow him.  In his fear, Ahaz was looking for help.  And his first thought was to find another nation that would help him crush Israel and Aram.  And that’s when Isaiah shows up.

God sends Isaiah to King Ahaz to offer him the chance to repent, to believe in God.  He sends him with this message: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”  In other words, believe in Me, and I will provide.  But if you don’t, you will lose your kingdom.

Isaiah then offers Ahaz a wonderful opportunity.  Few in history have been given this kind of a chance.  “Ask a sign of Yahweh your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  What an opportunity?!  Ask for anything you want, and I’ll do it.  Think about that?  What would you ask for?  A mountain made of pizza?  A valley filled with ice cream?  A Vikings Superbowl?  A healing miracle for a loved one?  Or perhaps even in Ahaz’ case, the elimination of your enemies?  The angel of the Lord actually does that for Ahaz’ successor Hezekiah…

But with this golden opportunity, how did Ahaz respond?  “I will not ask, and I will not put Yahweh to the test.”  It had nothing to do with asking Yahweh.  King Ahaz didn’t believe in God.  There was no relationship there at all.  He simply said it to get Isaiah to go away.  But God knew and so did Isaiah.  So the language shifts.

Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

 

Did you hear the shift?  Before it was “ask Yahweh your God.”  But now Isaiah says, “my God.”  Ahaz was given a chance, and he rejected it.  And so God gave him a sign anyway.  Actually, He gave him two.  The first sign, of Immanuel, was something Ahaz wouldn’t live to see.  But the second sign, he would see.

That first sign to us is pure gospel.  We hear Immanuel, and we hear “God with us.”  It’s a wonderful thing, our Savior, taking on flesh, being born of Mary so that He could take away our sins.  But to the faithless Ahaz, God with us takes on a much different meaning.  And so the second prophecy continues by saying what will happen before this boy Immanuel even has a chance to grow up.

You can read the rest of chapter seven yourself, but I will summarize it for you now.  Isaiah tells Ahaz that the two kings he fears will be completely destroyed, as will their nations, and that Judah will experience something unlike anything they have seen since the day Israel and Judah split.

Again, we might hear that as good news.  That it would be like before, the joy of being one united kingdom.  If only Isaiah hadn’t continued.  He meant it another way.  Assyria, the nation Ahaz wanted an alliance with, the nation that would defeat Israel, Assyria was coming and “will sweep on into Judah like a flood” (8:8).  They wouldn’t destroy it, but they would enter the land, take its wealth, and steal its power.  They would leave Ahaz as powerless as he had feared he would become.

Within a decade’s time, that’s exactly what happened.  Assyria destroyed the threat, but they also took everything from Ahaz.  And it wouldn’t be until the next King, King Hezekiah, that Judah would recover, and even that was only temporary.

Because King Ahaz lacked a relationship with God, the promise of Immanuel, of God with us, was a terrifying thing.  Ahaz heard the gospel, but when he heard it, he heard nothing but law.

More than likely you have had that happen to you before.  That as you listened to the Word of God proclaimed to you, the good news of a Savior, that you heard something different.  Perhaps you were stuck in a sin or holding a grudge, but there was just something there, something that made that sweet, sweet gospel, suddenly taste bitter.

Before each sermon that I preach, I pray.  I ask God to speak to you whatever He needs you to hear.  I ask Him to send His Holy Spirit to work through me in a way that is beneficial to you and your relationship with Him.  Without a doubt, each and every one of you hears the sermon a little differently, and that’s why I’m glad that God is at work in this place.

You see, God is working in you, in all of us, to restore us to Himself.  To heal us, to love us, and to build that relationship between us.  And that’s what this Christmas is all about.  Our coming Savior, born of a virgin, born without sin, Immanuel, God with us. That God loved us so much that He sent His Son to save us, to give us peace.  As Isaiah would say two chapters later, He is our Prince of Peace.

To us, as God’s people, this is good news.  The virgin conceived and bore a Son.  Immanuel, our Savior, has been born for us.  Henry Schumann got this.  Henry knew he wasn’t perfect, he knew that he needed a Savior.  And so he prepared, and when he sinned he would repent, and he tried to live the life that God had prepared for him.  But that little baby boy, our Immanuel, took away Henry’s sins and gave him life.  And Henry is with Jesus in Paradise. What a blessing that is!

What a wonderful message, what a wonderful gift.  We rejoice as we celebrate Christmas together.  We rejoice at Immanuel, God with us.  And if for some reason you’re hearing that as law tonight, please speak with Pastor Fritsch or myself after church, that you too can leave here rejoicing in the good news of our Savior.  Jesus Christ, our Immanuel is born.  Merry Christmas!

Give Us a King! December 21, 2014

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Ezekiel 37:24-28

Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 21, 2014

 

Focus:  God gives us a better king.

Function:  That the hearers live in the kingdom of God.

Structure:   This is the problem…this is the response of the gospel…these are the implications.

 

Give Us a King

 

Have you ever noticed how bad we are at ruling ourselves?  Rome had an emperor named Commodus who was so obsessed with his own physique and having sculptures made of himself all over his empire, that he missed all the plotting in his own court to overthrow him.  Many even blame him for the fall of the Roman Empire.

Then there was King Edward II of England who so alienated his wife that she partnered with France and led an army against her own husband.  And Charles the Simple of the Carolingian Dynasty had his army turn on him after he abandoned them in battle.

The Scriptures are filled with kings doing foolish things.  Jeroboam of Israel didn’t want his people going to worship God in Jerusalem, which was outside of his country, so he commissioned the sculpting of two golden calves and set them up as idols for worship in the cities of Dan and Bethel.   Because the first golden calf had gone so well that we needed two more.

Queen Jezebel is famous for her evil ways.  She led the people to worship false gods, killed a man simply for not selling her his vineyard, and killed or persecuted the prophets sent by God.  She met her untimely end when she was thrown out of a window by the members of her own court.

And I’m not sure if I want to get into all of your political opinions about our own government in the last few decades.  Things might get a little heated.  But for all of this trouble with poor leadership, the truth is, God told us it was coming.

And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”  1 Samuel 8

 

And so God gave them a king, Saul, and he did all the wicked things that God warned them he would do.  But God again had a plan.  A plan to deliver us from the incompetent rule of sinners.

That’s the message that Ezekiel is delivering to God’s people in our Old Testament reading today.  He’s promising a king, but not just any king.  He uses the name of David.  David is a king that went down as a hero in Israel’s history.  He was a military champion, saving them from Goliath and the Philistines as well as many other nations.  The people sang songs rejoicing about David their king.

But that’s not the only reason that Ezekiel used David’s name.  God had also promised King David a couple of centuries earlier that someone would always reign on his throne.  “David My Servant shall be their Prince forever.”  Ezekiel’s not talking about David.  He’s talking about David’s heir, his descendent.  He’s talking about the Son of Joseph, a carpenter from Galilee.

God knew that a king was not what we needed.  But in our faithlessness, we rejected God and asked for one anyway.  And so God allowed it, much like a parent might allow their child to do something foolish, like staying up all night, or gorging themselves on candy at Halloween or cookies at Christmas.  We allow it so that our child learns a lesson for themselves, so that they learn from their mistake and so they learn that they shouldn’t do it again.  It’s a form of discipline.  And God did it with us.

In our sinfulness, we’re still tempted to be like Israel.  We’re still tempted to ask God for a king rather than allowing Him to lead us.  We are so quick and ready to look for solutions to our problems elsewhere.  We’re quick to put our trust in the things of this world.  We’re quick to think that we can do it on our own or that we’ve earned it on our own.  But whenever we do these things, whenever we put something else before God, we’ve created another golden calf, another idol, another king in God’s place.

But as He always does, God provides the answer.  He gives us a better King, a perfect King.  Knowing our needs, He sent His Son Jesus Christ to be our King, to be the “David” Ezekiel is talking about.  To be our one Shepherd who unites all people.

The New Testament is full of that language, of Christ as our Shepherd, or of how we’re all one in Christ.  “I am the Good Shepherd.”  “So in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”  After all the fighting and the divisions and the disgust with one another, God has reunited us in this King, His Son.

And then Ezekiel also tells us that God has created a new covenant, a covenant of peace.  This is the same as the new covenant Christ mentions in the Lord’s Supper, “this cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.”  That forgiveness is what brings us peace.  Sin is our great enemy, it’s what separates us from God, and Christ’s death on the cross has defeated it for us.  In His death, He granted us peace through forgiveness.

But more than that, He also rose again.  His death wasn’t permanent, but His victory was.  God raised Him from the dead so that our King will continue to be our King of Peace forever.  His forgiveness for us is never-ending.  His love and peace that He gives us are never-ending.  The way that He leads us, protects us, and cares for us is never-ending.

Christ as our King does mean we have to follow and trust Him, rather than our idols and temptations.  Ezekiel said, “My Servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one Shepherd.  They shall walk in My rules and be careful to obey My statutes.”  That’s the purpose of God’s law in the first place, to show us the way, to help us to live as God designed us to live.  It was meant to help us live healthy and full lives.

This covenant of peace, this King that God gives us, is here to lead us, is here to show us the way.  Our King Jesus forgives us when we fall short of the law.  He teaches us how to live the life God has given us. He guides us and shows us how to love our neighbors so that they too might call Him King.  And He protects us from our enemies, from the evils of sin, death, and the devil.

God gives us the solution to poor earthly kings, He gave us the greatest King we could ever imagine.  He gave us His Son Jesus Christ that our sins might be forgiven, that our relationship with God and with each other might be restored, and that we might trust in Him to lead us.

Advent Preparations December 7, 2014

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Luke 3:1-18

Advent 2

December 7, 2014

 

Focus:  God sent John the Baptist to us to lead us to repent.

Function:  That the hearers repent of their sins.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

Advent Preparations

 

Prepare, prepare, prepare…that’s the message during this busy season of Advent isn’t it?  There were the preparations for the Thanksgiving get-togethers with family, all the food that had to be prepared, the people to invite.  And then immediately afterwards, there were the preparations for the shopping season.  Perhaps you’re the kind of person that looks through all the ads and puts together a master list.  Or maybe, like Pastor Fritsch and many other men, you’re the hunter, where you go in, direct route planned, you make the kill finding what you wanted, and boom, you’re out of there and headed home.

Then there’s the lights, the tree, the Christmas cards, the cookies, the pies, the fruitcakes, the gift wrapping, the photo sessions, the 25 days of Christmas on TV.  We have to prepare!  We have to prepare our families and our homes for Christmas.  And then, much like Thanksgiving, we have another family feast to prepare for.

As we gather together during Advent, we have our eyes fixed on a target.  Our eyes are fixed on the arrival of a baby boy, born in a stable, laid in a manger.  And in some ways, you could say all of our festivities, all of our preparations are like a baby shower.  Most all of you have been to one of those, even the men as there’s a trend today leaning towards couples’ showers.  You prepare food, decorations, gifts, games.  Lots to prepare, lots of fun together.

And while all of these things are good, they’re not the reason for the season.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to spend time with our families.  The traditions at this time of year are blessings to our homes.  The spirit of giving to others for many is alive and well.

But, Advent isn’t a baby shower.  We aren’t preparing ourselves for a baby boy to be born in Bethlehem.  That ship set sail a long time ago.  Even as we do everything that we do to celebrate Christmas, it’s not just a history lesson.  Sure, we’re looking back, but we’re also looking forward.  Celebrating the birth of our Savior that morning in Bethlehem is a great way for us to focus on our relationship with God.

If we look to the prophet John, we hear his call for preparation.  But it’s not the same as the day when he leapt for joy in his mother’s womb at the arrival of Jesus.  Here we are some 30ish years later, and John has work to do.  He’s been set apart, he’s been called by God to serve a specific purpose.

The words he’s been given to speak come straight from the prophet Isaiah.

 

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘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.’”

 

But what does that mean?  What are these prophets talking about?  What does it mean to fill valleys, lower mountains, make paths straight?  Take a moment with me and actually visualize this.  If we’re at the Grand Canyon, and I’m on one side, and you’re on the other, how can reach each other?  We have to do all the legwork of going all the way around the Canyon.  And if you swap that out for the Rocky Mountains, we’d still have to go all the way around.

When I was a kid growing up in St. Louis, we had a highway that reminds me of this.  It was called Old Highway 21, but it was better known as Blood Alley.  For a two-lane highway, a place where you’re going 50-60 miles per hour, it snaked its way through the countryside.  And it wasn’t just curves, but hills too.  And around every curve, there was a hill in the way, so you couldn’t possibly see oncoming traffic.  Because of the dangerousness of this highway, from the windy to the ice, to the lack of visibility, the nickname was fitting.  Many people died on that road, and still do.

But a few years ago, they decided to finally replace it.  And just nearby they constructed New Highway 21.  It’s four lanes…and it’s straight.  Traffic accidents have greatly decreased.  And time is saved as well, as the quickest trip from point A to point B is a straight line in between.

So if you build a straight new highway, or if you fill in the Grand Canyon, or level the Rocky Mountains, suddenly obstacles are removed.  What prevented us from getting from one side to the other is no longer in the way.  We can move freely from point A to point B.

You see, John has been called for a special purpose.  He’s not just a preacher, he’s a prophet. God has sent him with the message of repentance.  Our sinful lives are what stood in the way. Sin separates us, distances us, from God.

Sin among the people is what John is talking about.  So he immediately says to the crowd:

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

 

Wrath is coming.  The axe is laid to the root of the tree.  John the Baptist has been sent to call the people back to repentance, to restore their relationship with God.  The Rocky Mountains, the hill to be leveled, you could call those the 613 laws the Pharisees had set up to follow.  Those were dangerous, those prohibited men and women from coming to know God.  Having grown tired of waiting centuries for a Savior, was a valley that needed filling for many.  Coming up with strange ideas of what their Savior would do for them, perhaps riding in a chariot with an army at His side, crooked paths in need of straightening.

“So with many other exhortations he preached good news to the people.”  But he had just talked about repentance, about wrath and judgment, about a Savior equipped with a winnowing fork to work the threshing floor separating chaff into the fire.  How is that good news?  Where is the joy in that?

But it is there.  It was there on Christmas morning, and it was there the day John was speaking with the crowds.  You see, in the midst of our sin, in the midst of our wickedness and separation, God still loved His people.  God still provided for His people.  He was prepared to do what needed to be done.  He was prepared to offer His Son as a sacrifice, as a guilt offering for us.  And so He sent His Son Jesus Christ, out of His great love for us, He sent Him into this world as a little baby.  He sent Him into this world to do what we can’t.  To die for us.  And that’s good news.  That while there is a judgment, through Christ, we might be spared from it.

And even though it may be difficult sometimes, repentance is a joyful thing, too.  Remember the prodigal son?  The boy who ripped his inheritance away from his father, squandered it all away, and then came back to dad looking for food?  Was that a sad day in that household?  Far from it!  The father rejoiced, ran to greet his son and threw a large party to celebrate his return.  We’re also told by Luke that there is rejoicing among the angels every time a sinner repents.  There is joy in repentance, because in repentance relationships are being restored!

So as we prepare this Advent season, what do you need to do to prepare yourself, not for Bethlehem, but for the return of Christ, for Judgment Day?  What are the valleys in your life that need to be filled in?  What are the mountains that need leveling? The paths that need straightening?  What is separating you from God in your life, in your home, in your family, in your work?  Take the time this Advent season.  Find them, fill them, level them, straighten them.  Prepare yourselves for your Lord and Savior’s return.