Dear friends in Christ, we’re almost there. 1½ weeks until Christmas. The big question is: Are we ready? Although, not so much with the Christmas shopping, wrapping, decorating, and card mailing. Rather, are we ready with true repentance and faith? Are we ready to once again receive the baby born without sin, to cover all our sins? Are you ready to have Him be born in you, once again, in your heart and soul?
Are we ready? Are we prepared? How do we prepare? By indulging in every earthly desire we can think of, or, by repenting of our sins? By turning from them, by the aid of God’s Spirit. By making an effort to actually change our sinful behavior by putting away our old man, the old sinful nature, and rising to new life with Christ. By hearing His Word often. By taking it to heart. By remembering our Baptism. By partaking of the Lord’s Supper. By believeing that Christ is everything we need for salvation, and that He gives us the strength and the courage to change our sinful ways.
And by remembering, yes even at Christmastime, remembering the sacrifice Christ made for us. He says, “remember Me. Remember what I did for you.”
Is this what we want as we prepare for Christmas? The Christ who sends, not Santa Claus, but John the Baptist, to prepare our hearts, saying, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
When all the world almost worships the colors green and red (at this time of year), and the man in red (in the red suit), here we are with the color purple on our altar? While the world indulges in whatever it wants, here we are once again focusing on repentance (which is what purple signifies).
And in the pre-Christmas season, we focus not on Santa, but on John’s message of repentance, for not one but two Sundays, the 3 rd and 4 th Sundays in Advent. And what was the first Sunday in Advent again? Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, how He came in humbleness, and how we must have humble hearts to receive our humble King. The 2 nd Sunday in Advent (last week) we focused on, of all things, Judgment Day, and being ready for Christ’s 2 nd coming.
Why does the Church focus on such different themes to get ready for Christmas? Perhaps this is the bigger question: Is this what we want, above all else, as we prepare for Christmas? That’s why Jesus says, “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended in Me.” Oh there’s plenty we could find offensive, and say, “ok I’m out. No more of this. I’ll come back when it’s time for the presents and eggnog.”
The world says, "Surely there has to be something greater than this, better than this, more Christmasy. Come on, John’s message of repentance?, Christ entering our hearts lowly and humble?, and being ready for His second coming? There’s gotta be something more fun and exciting and entertaining. I need something more to get me in the right mood."
So Jesus asked the people of His day, what they wanted, what they came to see? A reed shaken in the wind? Reeds are tall grass. And what direction do reeds bend, when the wind blows? Whatever way the wind blows. They are flimsy.
There always have been, and there always will be plenty of preachers who bend whatever way the wind of popular opinion blows, regardless of whether or not it aligns with God’s Word.
One of the most popular winds of “religion” today is, “you do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable. There couldn’t possibly be one true religion – because it’s whatever you feel in your heart is correct.” But how can we claim to know what is right and wrong, without the only one who gave His life, to take away everything we’ve ever done wrong? Christ’s standard of morality in the Ten Commandments is what we must answer to on Judgment Day, not the court of popular opinion, which is exactly like a reed blowing in the wind.
John was not one of those reed preachers. By God’s grace, he had the guts to call sin what it was. He told King Herod, he was guilty of a specific sin. He didn’t speak in generalities to try to hide the truth. He said it plainly. Herod committed sexual sin. For he took his brother’s wife. That’s adultery. The Bible is clear – such do not inherit the kingdom of heaven who live in such sin.
But this is exactly why Christ was born, to deliver us from our sins. To give us true repentance and faith. To have our spiritually blind eyes see the light of God’s Word and Spirit. To have our spiritually deaf ears, hear the promises of God. To have our spiritually dead souls raised to new life in Christ, just as surely as He is risen. As the gospel is preached to our spiritually poor hearts, we do become eternally and everlastingly rich in the forgiveness of our sins.
But we cannot enter heaven clinging to our sins. We must let Jesus have them. We must let Him take them away. But how can He take them away if we refuse to let go of them? That’s why we need God’s Word, God’s Spirit. We need the miracle of repentance, the miracle of faith – only possible by the power of God’s Word.
What’s hard to admit is that we all need to repent daily. No matter how faithful and sincere we’ve been, we still need to turn from our sins. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
One of the hardest things to do, is to eat crow, and admit, “I was wrong. I did wrong.” But with God nothing is impossible. He already sent His Son to fulfill all righteousness for us. His Son already went to the cross to take away all our sins. He already rose from the dead and promises us eternal life. He’s not going to leave us to fend for ourselves regarding our temptations. By His Spirit working in us through His Word, He gives us true repentance and faith. He enables us to overcome. “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”
I hope and pray we do all have a Merry Christmas. I hope we all enjoy all the blessings Christmas brings. But may we treasure most the spiritual blessings that Christ brings, the blessing of John the Baptist’s message - to prepare the way for Christ, to prepare our hearts for Him to enter in, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
May he ready our hearts once again, for the Christ child to come and continue to enter our hearts, to be our Savior, both now and for the rest of our life, to strengthen and keep us. That we may be ready also for His second coming on the last day. In Jesus’ name. Amen.