2 Advent Proper C2
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 3:1-14 Sermon
December 6, 2009
Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal):
9 "Prepare The Way, O Zion"
32 "Rejoice, Rejoice This Happy Morn"
12 "Comfort, Comfort Ye My People"
4 "On Jordan's Banks The Baptist's Cry"
14 "Rejoice All Ye Believers"
REMEMBER THE TIME
TEXT: "1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."
December seventh. That's tomorrow. Do you know why that date is famous? In a speech delivered to congress on December 8, 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt began his speech with the following words: "Yesterday, December 7th, 1941--a date which will live in infamy--the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."
Of course December 7th was the day in 1941 that the Japanese attacked the US Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. This not only marks the date of the attack, but also marks the date that the United States entered into World War II.
What I know about Pearl Harbor is what I have gleaned from history books and what I learned when I visited there back in 1989. I never experienced it first-hand. But for those of you who were alive back then, do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard this tragic news?
Yesterday, December fifth is another tragic date. It was on this date two years ago, back in 2007 that Robert Hawkins walked into the Von Maur department store in Omaha, and killed eight people. And I'll ask you the question again: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard this tragic news?
Consider some other dates too. Do you remember where you were when John F. Kennedy was assassinated? It happened on Friday, November 22, 1963. I remember that I was in the fourth grade in school when the teacher announced that it had happened.
Or maybe you remember September 11, 2001, where the seven buildings comprising the World Trade Center were all destroyed, thanks to terrorist attacks. Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard this tragic news? I was at home that morning, and didn't have the TV turned on. Then my mother called me and told me what had happened.
There are many dates that are historical. Even though the ones I just mentioned have some sort of tragedy connected with them, there are those dates that are more joyful. July 4, 1776 is a good one. That's the date of the Independence of the United States, and it's even inscribed on the tablet that the Statue of Liberty is holding in her left arm. We celebrate this day in grand style each year, especially here in Seward.
In the church, we know that October 31st is Reformation Day. And if you look in the front of the hymnal on pages 107-116, you'll note that there are days we call "lesser festivals," where we have days ascribed to celebrate various Biblical persons and other church-related events.
Then we have those dates that are meaningful to a more select group. We have birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, and other momentous times in our lives.
Dates are important; and when it comes to special days and times, we don't want to forget those days. When it is a tragic event, we don't forget those days either, even though we might like to. Items of historical significance will have certain days on the calendar to remember them.
When we look at the Bible, we can see that God thinks this way too. Significant events were marked with the date it happened. And when we look at our Gospel lesson for this morning, this is indeed the case with John the Baptist.
John was an important historical person. John was the one God had chosen to be the forerunner of Christ, as spoken about by the prophet Isaiah. He was a key figure in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy, and he served a very important function in the life of Jesus Christ.
In those days, they had various calendars and ways they marked time and seasons. The most accurate way of pinpointing a certain event was to mark it by linking it to whomever was holding positions of power in both the government and the church. We even do that now when we mark events by saying that something happened during the first year that Barack Obama was president, or that something happened during Dave Heinemann's third year as governor. When things were noted this way, a person didn't have to worry about which calendar someone might be using. And so by using this method of reckoning, the actual dating of something was quite simple.
Luke was quite adept at doing this. The first two verses of Luke chapter 2 is a good example: "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)" Caesar Augustus and Cyrenius--a great way to establish a certain historical period of time.
But the real detail is with the time of John the Baptist's birth. We know that if John's birth is well established, then Christ's will be too, since John was just a shade older than Jesus. Listen again to how Luke records the date in verses 1 and 2 of the third chapter: "In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar--when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene-- 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert."
Wow. When you stop and think about it, John must have been somebody very special indeed to have received that kind of attention. Luke has pinpointed the time of John's ministry as accurately as anybody could. And when we consider John's place in the grand scheme of things, we know just how important he really was. John fulfilled a key role in the Old Testament prophecy about the appearing of the world's Saviour.
So how important is correct timing? If we look to Jesus' first public miracle, the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Cana of Galilee, he points this out in a conversation with his mother. Reading from John's gospel, chapter 2 verse 4: "4 Dear woman, why do you involve me? Jesus replied. My time has not yet come." Things weren't ready for Jesus to begin his ministry. John the Baptist had not yet been dispatched to prepare the way. The timing just wasn't right.
If we look at Galatians chapter 4 verses 4-5, we see just how important time is to Jesus' ministry. Paul writes: "4 But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, 5 to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons." Things had to happen according to God's calendar, at the time that he had deemed to be proper.
I don't know how familiar you all are with somebody that's called a "roadie." In general, a roadie is somebody who works for a traveling entertainer. And it's a tough life too. They're the ones that take care of moving the equipment, getting everything set up, and making sure everything works.
Specifically however, there will be one or several roadies that will go to an entertainer's venue ahead of time to make everything ready for the star. They'll check out where to park, how to unload the equipment, what it's going to take to get it all set up, and iron out any difficulties. They do this in advance, so when the cast and crew actually arrive, there will be few, if any hiccoughs in getting things underway. A good experienced roadie will have tended to every little detail, getting whatever permits are necessary, getting everybody prepared, and making sure things go like clockwork.
John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus. John lived out in the desert in an itinerant lifestyle. He made his own clothing out of animal skins (it got cold in the desert at night!). His diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. We understand that the term "locusts" probably described the pods from the locust tree, and not the cicadas that we know as locusts, those insects that sing in the trees on a summer's evening.
So when the time came for John to begin his ministry, he had no home or family to encumber him. When God came to him at the time described in our Gospel lesson for today, John was ready to go to work. He knew what his job was, and he knew how to do it. And so he goes forth, preparing the people for the coming of the Messiah that had been promised ever since man's original fall into sin.
John's message was blunt and to the point. When John spoke, he could really sink his teeth in to his hearers. Listen once again to a portion of our Gospel lesson from Luke 3 verses 8-9 where John really gets down to business: "8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire." In other words, people had to stop just giving lip service to the faith. They needed to start acting like the people they claimed to be. They had to see their sinfulness and their need for this Saviour to come.
John's words speak to us today as well. The time has come, and the time is now. We need to be looking at ourselves and our sinfulness to see how much we need our Saviour. We can no longer hold on to any sort of false hope either. Coming to church isn't going to save us. Being born into a Christian family isn't going to save us. Only faith in Jesus as our Saviour is going to do it. That's the way our sins are forgiven. Faith alone saves.
Are we ready for him to come? Has John's message prepared our hearts for the Saviour of the world? Are we ready to receive him into our hearts through faith? Are we ready to live repentant lives according to that faith the Holy Spirit has so graciously given to us?
The beginning of John's ministry was a crucial and important time in history, and so the date that God came to him in the wilderness is well worth marking. Of all the dates in history, bringing forth the Saviour is the only one with eternal consequences.
At the beginning, I talked about various significant dates in history, and what they mean. These are dates people generally remember. And when you add that to the list of the dates that are significant in our own lives, we can have quite a list. We always mark the date of important events. That's the way history works, and that's the way we live our lives.
God thinks that timing is important too. If we look at the genealogy of Jesus in the opening verses of Matthew's gospel, the timing of each and every individual life all worked together so that Jesus, born of a woman, would be brought forth at the proper time. Everything had to be in harmony according to God's timing.
So often, the dates we remember signify some sort of tragedy, such as the Westroads Von Maur shootings, the Pearl Harbor attack, or the 9/11 attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. These are dates that we remember, although we wish we wouldn't have to.
The date John the Baptist began his ministry has a tragic side as well. This was a tragedy as far as Satan is concerned, because it meant he was defeated. John's message was to turn people away from Satan, and turn their attention toward God. Satan's power had been trumped once and for all.
As God's children, of course this is fantastic news for us. We need not fear Satan or death or hell any longer, because Jesus came to save us from all that. The time is now. Repent, and believe the good news of forgiveness and life. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour.
Therefore as we live our lives in repentance and faith, we know that God's plan is being fulfilled in each one of us. We have become his children through faith in the coming Saviour, and that faith will sustain us throughout our earthly life. Therefore we can say with the hymn writer:
Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear;
Arise, thou Son so longed for, o'er this benighted sphere!
With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord to see
The day of earth's redemption, that brings us unto thee!
(SBH 14 vs. 4)