Who Warned You?
Text: Matthew 3:1-12
2 Advent, A
Dear friends, there is a catastrophe coming. One that makes man-made climate change and its current doomsday predictions of 10 or 12 years look insignificant and feeble by comparison. It is a catastrophe millennia in the making. But a disaster that will come to its terrible completion in just a single day. It will be a day that sees the felling of whole forests of trees, a day full of unquenchable fire. It is the catastrophe we are warned of in our Gospel reading.
1In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 10Even 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.
But why such a strange messenger with such a harsh message? Why all the camel hair robes and dietary locusts? Why the scare tactics? Isn’t Christianity supposed to be all about love? Acts 17:30-31 "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead."
This world, your friends and neighbours, need messengers who will take their calling seriously and warn them before it is too late. Everyone needs to get reacquainted with the word Repentance. In our sin the human race has grown lazy, and conceited. We have made a hobby of obscuring the truth or making truth fit our own ideas and goals! We now demand that reality itself change to cater to our every whim and desire. And we see the strange fruit it bears all around us as lives and families are torn apart by things that simply cannot be no matter how hard we wish they might. Even we Christians can find ourselves in need of repenting. For all the times when we like the pharisees stand by as disinterested observers while people’s lives are ruined by sin that goes unchecked. Or worse yet, when we ourselves take up the sin we should be standing against, for fear of being left out. John’s warning of the axe at the root of the tree is for us dear friends. For us and our fruitless ways.
ESPECIALLY when it comes to speaking the urgent truth to the world around us. Often, we simply let it be ... there will be lots of time for that sort of thing later. Sometimes we become conceited in what little we have done, and get so busy patting ourselves on the back that we end up giving the wrong message to those who need to see clearly. Sometimes, we simply back-peddle from the Truth, afraid of its repercussions in our lives. “l could never say that! What would that do to my credibility at work. It'd get me beat up at school. I’d be a laughing stock of my friends and neighbours!"
Yes, the call to repentance is not an easy one to make. But the urgency of it is unquestionable. It was the only message of John’s ministry. It was also at the heart of all of Jesus’ preaching and the disciples after him. Matthew 4:17 "From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Mark 6:12 "So [the disciples] went out and preached that men should repent." If anything the call to Repent is MORE urgent now than ever before. That final day of judgment is coming closer every day!
But that’s also the great news in all of this! The day of the Lord may be coming swiftly, but the Kingdom of Heaven is already at hand. In other words, GOD IS RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW! While we wait for that final day of sorting and the judgment to come, God is at work in His Church, through His Son and the Holy Spirit. He is changing people's lives and hearts. For rightly speaking, REPENTANCE is a gift of God. Repentance is not work of the Law, but of the Gospel. It is not a burden but a joy! Acts 3:19 "Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord," It is only by the Grace of God that a person may come to see who they truly are, and to what end they are headed. It is only through the working of the Holy Spirit that you or I can turn from our path of sin and destruction, ask for God's mercy; and find it already there in Jesus Christ.
For in Jesus Christ the Kingdom of Heaven did indeed come near. in Jesus, the very heart of God almighty dwelt in our midst, ate our food, lived in our homes, and took our place. He died on the cross, chopped down in His prime, only to come out alive on the other side. And because He braved that catastrophe for us, He has now become a way around it. Through the gifts of His church, Holy Baptism, The Holy Scriptures, and The Holy Supper, Jesus is the root of our salvation. The the very fruit of heaven that leads to everlasting life.
But that fruit is also ours to produce in faith and conviction, in repentance and trust. From the Augsburg Confession we read: “Properly speaking, true repentance is nothing else than to have contrition and sorrow, or terror, on account of sin, and yet at the same time to believe the Gospel and absolution (namely, that sin has been forgiven and grace has been obtained through Christ), and this faith will comfort the heart and again set it at rest."
What good does it do our neighbour if we sit back quietly and watch them waste away their life in sin. The axe is at the root of every tree so forget the usual Christmas card, or tin of cookies. What better gift can you give them than the gift of a second chance? If we know, if we see, let us speak. Both in love, and with resounding firmness. "Repent!" Turn away from your destructive pursuits. Give up that which is killing you (however pleasant it may seem to be at the time). The way of sin will only lead to catastrophe beyond imagining. Turn to God instead and find forgiveness, and comfort. Turn to Christ and find life and hope. He is here right now. His kingdom is at hand to give you everything you need to get through all the hardships of this life to the blessed abundance of heavenly joy beyond.