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Clear the path December 4, 2016

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Matthew 3:1-12

Second Sunday in Advent

December 4th, 2016

 

Focus:  God sends His people to clear a path that others may see Jesus.

Function:  That the hearers clear the path for the gospel.

Structure:  .

 

Clear the Path

 

All summer long, and even this fall, if you wanted to get to Rochester, you had to be patient.  Construction crews had the roads all torn up to the point where Rochester’s official mascot might as well’ve been the orange traffic cone.  And if that was part of your work commute, I’m sorry.  But over those months, they built new roads, new bridges, reinforced old ones.  The trip to get to Rochester is now easier and safer than ever before.  The hard work of those crews paved the way for you to get into their city.

The Winterfest parade here in town doesn’t quite live up to the Fourth of July.  So even though that was just yesterday, think of any parade you’ve been at before.  The roads get blocked off, chairs are lining the streets.  People are preparing to see the procession.  And of course, when the parade begins, where are the children?  Up front.  Right, they’re right up front.  There’s no point to them sitting in the back, they can’t see anything.  They’ll get bored, antsy, frustrated, and distracted.  And they become a distraction.  So they go to the front, where they can see and hear everything.

And even though Pastor Fritsch and I don’t throw out candy during the service, the same thing really applies to church.  Kids behave better, pay attention better, hear God’s Word better, up front, where they can see.  There aren’t a bunch of heads blocking the way.

You’re all good at this, making things visible.  Next weekend we have the Wee Care Christmas programs.  And this place will be packed.  And you help.  You actively help to arrange chairs and risers and other things.  But even as we remodeled this space for worshipping God, you kept people’s ability to see in mind.

Even though it proved unfeasible to rip out these pillars, you saw fit to ramp up our tech, to put in a great camera system that broadcasts the service onto those side screens.  So when those green chairs and folding chairs are filled with relatives next weekend, they can see the kids singing and it makes hearing the good news of the gospel all the easier for them, because the way has been made clear.

In many ways, this was John the Baptist’s task, his calling.  As God’s prophet, he had a very specific call to fulfill. “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”  Those words were waiting for John, for over six hundred years.  This was how God saw fit to prepare the way, to put up construction cones, to clear a path.

John didn’t get any dynamite to work with, aside a potent proclamation.  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  I’ve always thought it was pretty cool that the sermon John preached to the people is the same exact sermon that Jesus begins His ministry with.  In Matthew 4:17, it’s word for word.  The same exact message.  “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the proclamation which God gave to John to clear the path.  To obliterate the obstacles in people’s lives so that they could see the Christ.  John was sent to take away any roadblocks that would stop people, physically, mentally, emotionally, whatever it may have been.  Prepare the people for the coming of Jesus.

And his message does exactly that.  Repent, turn away from your sins.  It’s the law.  And John, as a prophet, comes equipped with the full force of the law, able to point people to what sins are burdening them that they aren’t even aware of.  Or in the case of the Pharisees and other leaders, challenging their pride.  Cast these things off, repent.  Turn away from your sins and turn to God.

And the message also included the timing.  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  It’s here.  The inbreaking of God into our midst, the inbreaking of God into the brokenness of our lives and our government is here.  You don’t have to wait anymore.  The Christ has come.  Life will never be the same.

John spoke on behalf of the Lord and the people listened.  “Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.”

John did his job, with the Spirit’s help no doubt.  But people from all over the world were coming to John, hearing his message, confessing their sins, and being baptized.  John was clearing a path for people to be ready to see and hear Jesus.  That when He comes, they’d be’d dying to hear the good news of the gospel.  Of salvation by grace alone.  And to be baptized into His kingdom which knows no end.

In some ways, this is what we do.  You haven’t been called by God to be prophets.  You haven’t been called by God to baptize.  But you are called by God to prepare the way, just as it was said in John and Jesus’ preaching.

That’s the point of Advent, that we prepare for His coming.  That we repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  And so we do.  We gather together, as His people, His children the church.  We enjoy some fellowship over freshly cooked meals.  Then we gather here, in this holy space, set apart for the preaching of the Word.  For the preaching of both law and gospel.  That you’re sinners, in need of repenting, confessing your sins before the Lord.  And so you do, you already have.  And then He speaks to you His good news. He speaks to you His forgiveness.

There’s not much of a point to a worship service without the means of grace.  If you come here, and the forgiveness of sins isn’t here, we’re doing something wrong.  Through confession and absolution, through baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper, your confession of sins is heard and your sins are absolved, they’re removed from you.  They’re forgiven.  And there’s nothing better than that in the whole world.  That Christ died on the cross in our place.  That’s why you pay for this building.  That’s why you call and pay your pastors, which you do generously!  Without forgiveness, there’s nothing here.

Parents probably have the easiest task of clearing a path.  And I don’t say this to belittle parenting.  Not at all.  It’s a challenge, and a blessing.  I say the path is easier for parents because our children, when God gifts them to us, are blank slates.  Yes, sinners, by all accounts.  But they have no worldview.  They don’t know what to think, how to live, who to trust.  As parents, we get to build their worldview.

And so Advent is a parental reminder, clear the path for your children to see Jesus.  What’s this look like?  Well, this is where gets tougher.  We actually have to look at what we’re teaching our kids, at what we’re telling them matters, and we might have to change things.  We might have to clear a path through some self-erected obstacled.

I shared an interview from the Issues, Etc. radio program this week on Facebook, with Pastor Hans Fiene.  In that interview, he breaks down how we’ve made sports an idol.  I encourage you to go and listen to it.  If you don’t Facebook or can’t find me, that’s okay, just Google “Issues Etc.” and it will be one of the first archived shows on their site.

It’s worth your time, even if you don’t have kids, or never will.  Because the point can be expanded.  With sports and children, the problem now is more than just that teams and leagues and coaches insist on Sunday morning practices, games, and tournaments.  The problem is deeper than Wednesday night commitments that keep our kids out of Confirmation.  The problem is that those things get chosen over hearing the Word of God, over receiving His gifts of life and forgiveness in a place that He has set apart for you.

Children don’t fall for the old “do as I say, not as I do.”  They learn from this that it’s okay to do something else.  God can take the backseat, He’ll be okay with it.  And “just this once” has an awful bad habit of becoming regular routine.  And like I was saying, it’s not just sports.  What in your life takes your eyes off the cross?  What hinders you from devotions at home, from being in His Word?  What prevents you from coming to His altar and drinking His blood, shed for you?  Whatever these things might be, clear the path.  Don’t take on the commitment that strips you from this community.  Say no to the traveling league. Say no to the camping trip.  Say no to the promotion that gives you bad hours.

That’s the challenge of clearing the path for parents.  Sometimes we have idols that have to be torn down, cleared, so that our kids can see Christ.

But the challenge is still for all of us to clear the path for our neighbor.  And this one’s tougher.  This one’s tougher because your neighbor already has a worldview.  They already have commitments. They already have mentors and role models.  They already have an entire framework for how they’ve come to be them that doesn’t understand that they were created by God intentionally.

It’s hard to overcome the worldviews of our culture.  But in this way, we’re like John.  We’re tasked with giving the Word a hearing.  With building a relationship with our neighbor through which we can tell them of God, of His creation, of our sins, and of forgiveness in the cross of Christ.

In that too, we have idols.  Idols of comfort, of tolerance, of freedom, things that we must again clear to share the Word.  We don’t want to risk losing our friends, but what kind of friend are we if we don’t care if they’re forgiven?

Now don’t hear what I’m not saying.  You’re not responsible for their worldview.  You’re not responsible for whether or not they actually hear the Word of God.  John the Baptist wasn’t called to hammer home the Word over and over again until the people finally listened.  He was simply called to share it.

He acknowledged his limitations.  He didn’t even see himself as worthy to untie and carry the filthy, bloodied sandals of Jesus.  And he’s right.  And neither are we.  We can’t save ourselves, so we certainly can’t save others. That job belongs to God alone.

And He has done it.  The same Spirit who created life in you from the dirt has brought you to the font to be baptized, to create a new life in you.  The same Lord who knew you before you even existed, willingly laid down His life on the cross to claim your sins as His own.  The same God who could make the rocks proclaim Christ, chooses to work through us, as His children, as His family.  The same God who watched as we corrupted the creation He entrusted to us, continues to entrust it to us.

So we are called to put on our hard hats and clear some paths in our own life, in our family, and with our neighbors.  But even in hearing that, those words of Advent preparation, we still rejoice.  We rejoice in the work of John the Baptist, clearing the path for so many to see Jesus’ ministry on this earth.  We rejoice in the work of all those since Jesus’ ministry who have continued to clear paths that we too have seen our risen King.  And most of all, we rejoice in our Lord and Savior, who loves us so much that He willing surrendered His own life, to save us from the unquenchable fire.

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