Today was the beginning of the second week of advent, and the artists have updated the main gallery wall with a new vista. Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem and the star is ready to announce the birthplace of Messiah. The theme of this week and this week’s sermon was preparation.
Many times, we think of preparation for meeting God in terms of getting rid of sin, cleaning our act up, being pure and other such things. Penance and cleansing rituals come into play for some traditions. But Pastor Jim spoke a word of hope, truth and peace to us today, reminding us of how ridiculous it is for us to try to be ready for Christ. When we were first given new life, it was not by our ability to get our ducks in a row. When we walk with his real presence, as the Holy Spirit dwells in us, it’s not by some sudden ability to be Mr. Perfect. The scandal of the Gospel is that we sinners are saved by grace – free, extravagant, abundant life traded to us for our rags, muck, and wretchedness.
The question, then, is what we do with Luke 3:3-9 where John the baptizer is declaring the need to prepare the way of the Lord, and to repent, and bear fruit in keeping with repentance. The “easy” road to take is that we need to get rid of our own sin in preparation for the arrival of Jesus. But that’s kind of like saying there’s an airplane coming so we’d better stop all this silly gravity stuff and learn to fly. In our current state, sin is a woeful reality. With that line of thinking, none of us would ever be prepared for the coming of the Lord, whether at the first advent, or the one to come. What, then, is the answer?
Pastor Jim put it clearly this morning when he said “repentance for the remission of sins” equates with “getting a ticket for speeding.” We don’t get the ticket so that we can speed, it’s because of speeding. Therefore repentance is not to earn remission, but instead because of the forgiveness we have received. Since you have been forgiven, repent! Change your thinking and your attitude. Welcome the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, not as one who cowers away, awaiting the strike across the cheek, but welcoming the loving correction of a holy Father.
In this way we are prepared: we must open our hearts wide before the holy God who made us and has the right to judge us, and receive the words of correction that expose our sin, and then, because we have been saved by grace through faith, repent! This is a lifestyle of repentance and it is a precious thing indeed.