December 9, 2018
Second Sunday of Advent
Pastor SeokCheol Shin
Advent Peace – “Waiting in Repentance”
Ready for Christ
December seems to be the craziest month of the year – wouldn’t you agree? We are so busy and excited with preparing for Christmas. This probably suggests to you; going to the attic and bringing down all the decorations, putting up the tree and all the lights, purchasing the Christmas gifts, doing all the holiday cooking and baking, and maybe a thousand other things that “need” to be done before Christmas… Yet why do you bother yourself with those crazy Christmas preparations? Well, I guess it is because your families are coming home, isn’t it?
We have found that preparing is hard work at our church too. During the past weeks, our members swarmed over the church like busy bees putting up Christmas trees and lights, the Nativity set, and the Advent wreath and candles and banners… As we have well prepared our Christmas decorations, we are also ready to celebrate our Christmas season with our families, friends and neighbors.
But when I meditated on today’s scripture from Luke’s Gospel, I was thinking of this question, “Am I ready for Christ?” Who is coming for our Christmas? Is it our family or Jesus Christ? It’s so exciting to prepare for the holiday of Christmas, but how do you like to prepare for Christ?
Traditionally, John the Baptist always visits us on the second Sunday of Advent and reminds us that Christmas is for preparing for the coming of Christ. For it, he calls us to a deeper kind of preparation – a serious spiritual preparation.
Before mentioning John’s ministry, interestingly, Luke listed the names of the rulers of his day (vv. 1-2). The first one is Caesar Tiberius, who was a strongly anti-Jewish ruler. The next is Pontius Pilate, who allowed the crowd to crucify Jesus Christ. Then there is king Herod, who later killed John the Baptist and took part in interrogating and humiliating Jesus along with Pilate. At last, Luke mentioned the Jewish high priests, Annas and Caiaphas; they were only puppet religious leaders who later handed Jesus over to be crucified. Those rulers were all tyrants and flatterers of the power. Why did Luke describe this list of Roman and Jewish leaders in the opening line? I believe that it is just to show his day was corrupt all the way from the top down.
After naming those rotten rulers, Luke suddenly turned our attention to John’s ministry. According to him, John preached about the impending coming of God’s Messiah to rule all the nations, and he shouted this, not in a secret place, but in public where many people freely come and go. What he spoke was very radical and dangerous around his time. How did the Roman rulers react to his message about the coming of a powerful King from heaven? How did the Jewish priests accept John’s preaching about “repentance?” His angry voice was not a kind of evangelical campaign but a political revolution or a religious reformation against the corrupt rulers of the world.
John spoke dangerous words against the unjust society of his day. I think that John the Baptist was a great leader of his day like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela, who fought for the social justice of their days. In terms of our language, we can call him “revolutionary.”
Yet, we ordinary people are not comfortable with his political message because he shouted his voice not only over the evil rulers but also over the crowds. According to him, we are like a “brood of vipers” that cannot flee from the wrath to come (v. 7). We are like the “tree that doesn’t bear good fruit and that is cut down and thrown into the fire” (v. 9). He continued to say that the Messiah stands on the threshold, ready to gather the wheat into his granary but burn the chaff with unquenchable fire (v. 17). None would be free from his punishment unless we repent, turn from our wicked ways, and get baptized!
As a prophet, he proclaimed the message of repentance not only to the political rulers of his day but all humanity of the world. Why? It is because God’s Messiah is the Savior and the King of all races in the world. Whoever wants to belong to him and receives his sovereignty must repent and try one’s best to live in a righteous way.
If we only consider ourselves as citizens of our country, we don’t need to repent; our government doesn’t care about how we live and what we do unless we violate the civil rules and laws. But if we consider ourselves as citizens in heaven, we should recognize that God will bring us to account for our personal and private lives. And we know that we are never perfect enough in terms of God’s holiness and righteousness. Although we think we are good citizens of our country, we should repent because we are part of the sinful world.
The Gift of the Holy Spirit
By the way, the theme of this second Sunday of Advent is peace. Then how is John’s message related to peace? Does he talk about peace in his preaching? No, not all… Rather, he seems angry and upset with all of us because we are all sinners and that’s why he only preached “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 3). But I believe he still represents peace today because his preaching pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.
According to John, the result of our repentance will be worth it. He says, “[When the Messiah comes,] he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (v. 11). In other words, he will give us the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, the power of our lives, the power of revival, the power of growth, the power to sustain, restore, and keep our lives going on!
We all want to celebrate our days and lives; we want to recover and restore what we have lost; we want to live in peace and raise our children in safety. For all those blessings, John the Baptist argues that we should first repent, change our life and get clean, that Christ will come into our hearts and shine and strengthen our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is the way we receive Christ, Emmanuel, the Holy Spirit, who offers us genuine peace!
Peace Comes with Repentance
We are already familiar with his message, “Prepare the way of the Lord” (v. 3), for it is the central message of John the Baptist and also the central lesson for Advent. O yes, we have already set all the Christmas decorations around and inside of our house; a few days ago, we already finished our Christmas shopping and purchased Christmas gifts for our children. But unlike our way to prepare for Christmas, John the Baptist speaks of repentance rather than celebration. Repentance is how we prepare for the coming of Christ.
John says, “I baptize you with water.” Baptism is the sign of repentance and turning around and living with Christ. He continues to say, “The One who is more powerful than I is coming after me… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” As we repent, the Prince of peace, the Savior of the world will come in, bless and heal our lives, and renew our life’s journey. This is our faith, our hope, and our gift from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.