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Sermon based on Luke 3:1-6
In history there sometimes appears a person who seems to be from a different time. Their thoughts, wardrobe and actions are out of sync with the way the rest of the world does business. John the Baptist was such a person in the New Testament. Instead of wearing the fine woven cloth that was available, he wore a shirt made of camel hair and leathers. Instead of eating the traditional foods of the region, he ate grasshoppers and wild honey. Instead of finding a normal vocation, he became a wandering preacher like the prophets of long ago. What was most out of sync was John the Baptist’s message, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Those words seemed different. They really seemed out of another time as he preached upon that subject matter.
“Repent” is certainly a word used quite a bit in the Bible. Its meaning and implication is found in both the Old and New Testaments. In exploring Scripture and the subject of repentance, one can gather these following results:
- The word repent is found in 39 different verses
- The word repentance is found in 21 different verses
- The word repents, (plural form) is found in 5 different verses
- The word repented (past tense) is found in 9 different verses.
Seventy-four different times in Scripture a form of the word repent is shared. The Greek word translated “repent” is the word “metanoeo”, which means, “to reconsider”, or “to think differently”. There is another related word “metanoia”, which means “to turn around, to face a new direction.” The word repent in my opinion is one of the most positive, hopeful words of Scripture. There are several important lessons associated with repentance worth exploring this morning.
The first lesson is repentance is for everyone, all the time. We typically think repentance is a word that applies to those who need big change in their lives. In the Bible repentance is used often to describe a complete “about-face”, a complete reversal of the way one’s life is going. However, repentance may also mean a simple change in our direction in life that turns us back to God. In the early 1980’s, ABC News had a segment about an unusual work of modern art. This art was a chair affixed to a shotgun. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gun barrel. The gun was loaded and set on a timer to fire at an undetermined moment within the next one hundred years. The amazing thing this news segment shared was that people waited in line to sit and stare into the shell’s path. They all knew that the gun could go off at point blank range at any moment, but they were gambling that the fatal blast would not happen during their time in the chair. While this sounds crazy to many of us here this morning, few of us would ever dream of sitting in that chair, yet in our lives, we often gamble that we can get away with sin. Foolishly we ignore the risks of our sins until we can self-destruct. The late Charles Colson was a former Richard Nixon staff member who spent time in prison for his involvement in Watergate. While in prison he dedicated his life to serving Christ and became the founder and chairperson of Prison Fellowship Ministries, a counseling program that operates in more than 600 prisons nationwide. He once wrote: Repentance is the process by which we see ourselves, day by day, as we really are: sinful, needy, dependent people. It is the process by which we see God as he is: awesome, majestic, and holy. Like John the Baptist preached, God can see our need for repentance and is there to meet us when we are ready to repent.
As we prepare for God to meet us where we are, we learn the second lesson, which is repentance requires awareness. In thinking of this I am reminded of the story of a church member who was praying with their pastor. This person offered up the following words to God in prayer, “Lord, take the cobwebs out of my life.” Just as this person completed those words, their pastor interrupted and said, “Kill the spider, Lord.” Many times we ask the Lord to forgive us of some sin, yet we leave the source of temptation in our life.It’s interesting that the very themes John the Baptist speaks of in this passage, repentance, forgiveness of sin and baptism are more often associated with the church season of Lent rather than Advent. Preparing the way of the Lord forms the central focus of Advent. We must be aware that God does not come to people who are unprepared. In order to prepare ourselves for the future coming of Jesus we need to repent. Sometimes the call to change our lives must begin with an honest examination. If we want to give ourselves an examination of sorts as to what we may need to change in our life, many people advocate the use of pen and paper. Writing or journaling helps us choose words and helps us to communicate our thoughts in a way that allows us to address things more personally. People who are committed to their spiritual growth often say that there is a benefit in writing and keeping journals.
This brings us to the third lesson which is repentance requires confidence. As we speak of confidence, there were once two people walking down the street in their neighborhood, one person worked for a soap manufacturer and the other person worked in healthcare but was studying for ministry. As the subject turned to religion, the soap manufacturer casually said, “The Gospel you are studying and plan to preach hasn’t done much good has it? Just look at the headlines in our paper and look all around the world. There is still a lot of evil in the world, and a lot of evil people, too!” The other person did not offer an immediate reply. However they soon came upon some children making mud pies along the street. Seizing the opportunity, the person said, “I see that soap hasn’t done much good in the world either; for there is so much dirt, and many dirty people around.” His friend saw the kids and laughed and replied, “Oh, well, soap is only useful when it is applied.” To which the friend said, “Exactly. So it is with the Gospel.” As John the Baptist began preaching he was confident in all that he said never fearing the consequences of those who might oppose his message. When we face a moment for repentance, we can use this as an opportunity to listen to what God wants in our lives. The one thing we can count on is that if we’re listening for God and God’s calling, we should be faithful and trusting in the direction God leads us.
The final lesson we learn is that repentance is about responding. Have we ever worked with modeling clay? If not, then most of us have played with Play-Doh at some point in time in our lives. The same principle applies and that is as long as we are working with either of those substances; it stays soft, and pliable. If we leave them in a certain shape for a while, and come back and start working with them again, we will find it’s less flexible. Both begin to harden when left in one shape for a time. If we leave them in a given shape long enough, they become hard, and brittle and is unable to be reshaped. That’s the way our lives are, in God’s hands. If we respond to God’s voice, and do what we sense God calling us to do, God will shape and mold us to become better servants. John the Baptist was not afraid to stand out and be different. He was ready to share God’s message about the need for repentance. While his physical appearance was unique, he was a great profile of an evangelist for any time period in history. One of the great ways we can become better servants is to recognize our calling as evangelists and become more active in our witnesses for God’s Kingdom. A witness is someone who by explanation and demonstration gives audible and visible evidence of what they have seen and heard without being discouraged by the consequences of our actions.
In our Advent 2 liturgy that we would have prayed this morning in worship the following is shared:
Christ, the lamb of God, send us forth as your ambassadors of reconciliation in a broken and troubled world; bring peace to the conflicts of nations, races and tribes.
In following these commands from our Advent 2 liturgy we also are reminded of the following:
We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that we might proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. May our lives show forth that which we truly are…
During this season of Advent, may we bring others to know our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!
The Rev. Dr. David A. Marcus, Jr.
December 9, 2018