Second Sunday in Advent
Prepare Christ’s path!
Goal: That hearers understand confession of sins and trusting in baptismal grace as the daily rhythm of the Christian life.
Grace, mercy and peace to you...
For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.’ ”
Let us pray — These are Thy words, O Lord; help us, and sanctify us in the truth. Thy word is truth.
Preparing the path of Christ—preparing the way of the Lord—is Old Testament imagery from Isaiah that this morning’s Gospel reading uses to describe the prophetic and baptismal ministry of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:3). John’s prophetic message was that the Lord was coming in grace and judgment, so it was time for the people of Judea and Galilee to prepare.
Due to the sinful rebellion and idolatry of God’s people, it was almost as if God’s path to return to his people had become a dangerous wilderness of rough terrain! It was John’s purpose to get the people ready for that coming so that the Christ would not find a barren wilderness where his people were to be, but rather a people waiting in eager expectation for his arrival to deliver them from sin. John was there to prepare Christ’s path.
If John the Baptist thought the spiritual condition of first-century Israel was challenging, imagine what he’d think if he were preaching in the spiritual wilderness of 2022 in the United States. We have the whole menu of false religions, a huge segment of the population practices no religion, and a significant portion of Christian churches that deny and twist the central tenets of the faith. If that weren’t bad enough, there are even those who deny that Holy Scripture is God’s Word.
It is specifically because of these challenges that this account of John the Baptist continues to contain an important message for the Church. As we look at this text again this Advent season, we the Church continue the important work of John the Baptist this Advent.
Today’s text focuses on three important aspects to preparing Christ’s path that are still very applicable to our lives and the Church today. First, the central word in John the Baptist’s preaching that prepared Christ’s path was repent.
Repent of Your Sins
Repent of Your Sins
Just as Lent is a season of preparation and spiritual refreshment for Christians, so also is Advent. It is a time to quit kidding ourselves about how good and holy we are becoming, honestly recognize our sins—in thought, word, and deed—and repent.
John the Baptist did not sugarcoat his condemnation of sinners. As did the prophets of ancient Israel, he told people straight up the deep problem they were in without the grace of God.
Repent does not mean just being contrite or sorry for our sins, but it also encompasses faith, believing in God’s grace to forgive sins for the sake of Christ’s saving work. Without the Holy Spirit working the miracle of faith, contrition for sin is a dead end.
With his mention of the kingdom of the heavens, John is pointing his hearers to God’s gracious work in Jesus to bring God’s reign back to this sinful earth. Just as John called people of old to repent, Advent is a special time for us Christians to repent and call the unbelieving world to repent.
Three simple words that most people, including many Christians, find difficult to say are “I am sorry.” When we sin against God or someone else, we would rather yell, scream, and argue than tell God or that person, “I am sorry.” We may even try to excuse our behavior, or say, “I was just kidding” than to fess up that we sinned.
Evidence of repentance, of faith worked by the Holy Spirit, which we see in our Gospel, is when the people coming to John and being baptized confessing their sins. Advent is a time for us to be honest with God and one another by confessing our wrongs, our sin.
Have I sinned? Examine your life against the Ten Commandments — (read from Catechism). Confession of sin is the rhythm of life for a Christian. Advent is a time to make sure that we are back in that rhythm of confessing our sins to God and one another.
The second aspect to preparing Christ’s path that’s revealed in our Gospel is to live in your baptismal grace.
Live in Baptismal Grace
Live in Baptismal Grace
Jews did many ritual washings seeking purity from their sins. For example, some of the remains uncovered at Qumran, near the region where John baptized, include mikvahs, or washing pools with steps where you could walk down into the water for ritual cleansing.
John’s Baptism was different; it was a one-time washing that brought forgiveness. It was a one-time sharing of God’s forgiveness in a very tangible way. Just as people were plunged under the water, they were washed of their sin through Baptism. It was a Baptism that laid the foundation for the Christian Baptism you’ve received.
We continue to prepare the way for Christ in this Advent season as we live in and treasure our baptismal grace. John the Baptist said, “He who is coming after me is mightier than I. . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).
As amazing as John the Baptist was with his preaching and Baptism, you have received something greater — the very preaching and Baptism of Jesus. When you were baptized, you received the Holy Spirit, who united you with all the saving work of Christ: his entire obedient life, his death as a payment for sin, and his resurrection victory!
Therefore, an important aspect of preparing Christ’s path is simply living in this baptismal grace, claiming and treasuring it, living in its power and peace. Advent is a time to get back to the spiritual basics, and Baptism is one of those spiritual foundations in our lives.
Our Gospel reveals a third aspect to preparing Christ’s path. John says, “Bear the fruit of repentance!” (Matthew 3:8).
Bear the Fruit of Repentance
Bear the Fruit of Repentance
This command sounds rather challenging. John even goes on with a strong word of judgment: “Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).
If we are sinners, then how can poor trees like us produce good fruit? The Holy Spirit works repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, so it is not us who will produce good fruit, but the Holy Spirit whom we have received abundantly in Baptism when we were united with Christ.
The fruit we cannot produce by nature—such as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—the Holy Spirit can and will produce in and through us. We prepare Christ’s path by bearing the fruit of faith for the world to see, fruit miraculously produced not by us, but by the Holy Spirit. Examples: Matthew 25:35-36 “For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’” In other words, living out our specific vocations.
John the Baptist must have been overwhelmed with his task—so much to do to prepare Galilee and Judea for Christ’s coming. We may feel overwhelmed with our mission. But it all starts within each of us by repenting and confessing our sins, living in our baptismal grace, and bearing the fruit of repentance worked by the Holy Spirit.
The path to our hearts is then wide open. We, in turn, want others to experience the undeserved love of God in Christ that we already have in these holy days of Advent. So we call them to repent and confess their sins, to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit, and to bear the fruit of repentance the Holy Spirit produces.
Then cleansed be ev'ry life from sin; Make straight the way for God within, And let us all our hearts prepare For Christ to come and enter there.
Dear Friends in Christ: Prepare Christ’s path!
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.