Sermon: Advent Peace – “Waiting in Repentance”

December 9, 2018
Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 3:1-18
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.

Repent
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.

Sermon: Advent Hope – “Waiting with God”

December 2, 2018
First Sunday of Advent
1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 13:24-37
Pastor SeokCheol Shin

Advent Hope – “Waiting with God”

The Season of Waiting
Human life is full of all kinds of waiting: waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting in the doctors’ office or post office, waiting for any appointment, waiting for our children to grow, waiting for graduation, waiting for marriage, waiting for a job interview, waiting for vacation, waiting for retirement, waiting for the birth of a baby, and even waiting for the time of death.… Yes, our life is full of waiting and waiting and waiting.  I don’t know how you like your waiting moment, but I don’t like it because it usually brings a sense of anxiety and pain in my heart.

But I believe that there are some kinds of waiting that give us joy and fun. Let us think about the season of Christmas. I still remember how I was excited during the Christmas season when I was a little child; the closer it got to Christmas, the more excited I became. Waiting to open Christmas gifts, waiting for Christmas pageant, waiting for Christmas cookies and meals — all of these, even though I felt impatient in my heart, were all about fun! Yet if you ask me to give you just one word about why I like Christmas, I would like to say it is “friend!” Christmas is the best time for me to hang around with my friends. Gathering with my friends and playing with them is my happy memory of Christmas!

Waiting with God
This morning, our Gospel lesson leads us to talk about “waiting for the second coming of Jesus Christ;” this is the central theme of the Advent season. For Christians, the first Sunday of Advent is a sign of hope. Yes, it is a hope because we are waiting for “the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory” (v. 27).

When Jesus talked about his own second coming to the world, the disciples were surprised and also excited to hear this event. So they wanted to know when the end of the world was going to come. But Jesus said that “No one knows about that day or hour, but only the Father” (Mark 13:32). Nevertheless, Jesus commanded them to “be on guard,” which means keep awake, watch, and pray, because they don’t know when he is coming back to them (v. 36).

Yet, I am wondering whether this uncertain return would really encourage us to always keep watching and praying in faith and hope. Rather sometime later, we might get tired, bored, and confused about how it is all going to take place. Waiting for Christmas is always fun for us because we can count the time. But waiting for the second coming of Jesus may bring us a sense of tedium because we don’t know when it really happens.

This is exactly how the early Christians of the Apostle Paul’s time felt. When they first believed in Jesus and started their Christian life, they were eagerly looking forward to the second arrival of Jesus. They thought that his return was going to happen soon. They waited and waited and waited until the waiting was almost unbearable. As time just passed and nothing really happened, perhaps they began to look foolish, tired and even skeptical about the delay of his return. Some of them were even losing their faith and left the church. As they left the church, they fell into their secular lives. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Thessalonian Church, and he tried to call them back to their confidence in Jesus’ promise.

Paul’s main concern in this letter is about “waiting in hope.” For that, he reminds the Thessalonian believers that they are not alone as he points out to God’s abiding grace in their lives: “… continue to stand firm in the Lord” (v. 8). What Paul mentions in his letter is a simple and yet profound truth, which is “God is with them.” Perhaps they had forgotten. Perhaps we have forgotten, too.

“God is with us!” This good news that Paul shared with the Thessalonians is the eternal truth for all Christian believers. As you know, Jesus Christ came to us as our Emmanuel at the first Christmas.  Emmanuel means “God with us,” and that means we have never been waiting alone but always waiting with God. It also means that all God’s gifts we are looking for in our wait have been already given right in front of us. If we are confident of God’s abiding power and grace in our everyday lives, we will not feel discouraged or bored or hopeless, but we may have hope for our future life.

Let us talk about the feeling of waiting for something again. What helps us enjoy our time rather than feel bored or tedious when we are waiting for something? To answer this question, let us think about the time when we are with someone else during our wait. I believe that while talking and chatting together with our company, we don’t feel bored; we may even forget how long we have been standing in line waiting.

As we know, Lorrain’s father passed away last week. When I was there, I saw he was surrounded by his family and friends. All the people in that room were in sorrow while waiting for the time that God took him to eternal peace in heaven. Of course, I shared my sympathy with the family, but I could also feel God’s comforting hands there in the midst of their gathering. I saw they held each other’s hands, shared their emotion and childhood memories, and encouraged each other. As they were all together in that waiting time, their father was deeply blessed by their love; they could endure their sorrow; and they could peacefully accept God’s calling for their father. What I want to point out through this experience is that friendship or companionship is the best way for us to stand in peace and hope during our shared wait.

This companionship is exactly what Paul talks about to us. We are waiting for the coming of Christ, waiting for something to happen, or waiting for a better life in the future; whatever it is, we are not alone in our waiting time.  We are waiting with our Emmanuel in God’s grace that is always surrounding us, picking us up, and strengthening our faith and hope in Christ. With this ongoing presence and companionship with God, we can always take heed, stand in courage, endure our pains and sufferings, and wait in hope that God will strengthen us to overcome our problems, heal and recover our wounded bodies and minds, provide our journey, and bless our future lives.

No matter what happens in our lives, no matter what situation we may be in, we can always wait and continue our lives in hope because we know that Jesus Christ our Savior and our merciful friend is here with us and among us.

Waiting in Hope
This morning’s Scriptures teach us that our Lord Jesus Christ is coming into the world, and on the first Sunday of Advent, this is our hope. Our waiting for a new world may seem tedious or even discouraging especially with this shaky economy or without our beloved. We may be frustrated by its delay. But we must not give up the hope of a brighter future and the hope of the final fulfillment of God because Christ is indeed coming again!

How long do we have to wait then? We don’t know because Jesus didn’t give us the exact time and date. Yet, Jesus says, “stand up and raise your heads” (v. 28). And in the meantime, let us always remember this simple and yet deeply profound word of hope: God our Emmanuel is here with us, among us, and for us, always accompanying our journey and empowering our life.
Thanks be to God. Amen.