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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

We Are the People Who Wait - 12/08/2019

We are the people who wait … and Advent has a way of driving that home.

We wait for the Nativity of Our Lord on Dec. 24 when we will joyously remember the birth of the Messiah into our world.

It is the birth of a King … the only king capable of fulfilling the prayer of the Psalmist. Under this newborn king we welcome again in just a couple of weeks, the people are judged with righteousness and the poor with justice. Under this new king, the puffed up and powerful are laid low and the oppressed are lifted to freedom, abundance, safety. And, unlike any earthly king who tries to usurp the role of this perfect King begotten of our perfect God, Jesus endures as least as long as the sun and the moon.

And, as we were reminded in our Gospel reading last week, we also wait for Jesus to come again … we wait for the Jesus on the other side of our Christmas story, which is a story not finished, but it is promised. One of the tenets we adopt as followers of Jesus is that he will come again and with him, all of God’s kosmos will know the fully revealed realm of God.

We are the people who wait. And I would argue that we struggle with waiting in general. For many of us, when we are children, it’s hard to wait for Christmas and birthdays and friends to come over. And when we get older, we find there are whole lot of other things hard to wait for … forgiveness, answers, healing, fresh starts, order, understanding, endings, and, yes, a newborn King and the return of Christ.

But do not fear, because John the Baptist is here to help us. He not only announces the Messiah’s arrival, he suggests … strongly … how we are to respond. 

“The kingdom of heaven has come near,” John the Baptist cries out. For us, Jesus is the shoot “come out from the stump of Jesse … a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (Isa 11:1-2)

Isaiah’s vision has become our reality in Jesus, John announces. We are now actively entered into God’s time which culminates in that fully revealed kosmos that Isaiah also points us to. … that day when “the wolf shall live with the lamb,” babies and toddlers won’t even have to fear poisonous snakes, and the earth will be as full of knowledge and fear of God as Lake Superior is of her waters.

So, we are a people who wait in that time. And one central element of being people who wait in that time – John of Baptist reminds us today – is that we are called to live lives centered in repentance.

Now I feel like we do a pretty good job in the Lutheran tradition of talking about forgiveness of sins. Being freed of our sin is one of the primary focuses of Lutheran theology, after all.

“Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God,” Luther wrote. “Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want.”
(https://www.azquotes.com/quote/812845)

So we talk and practice and celebrate the way God has promised to free us from sin as much and as often as we need in the course of our very human journeys. That abundant and ever-present forgiveness is part of the repentance John is hollering about from the river.

It’s this larger understanding of repentance I think we too often gloss over.

The difference between the two – forgiveness of sin and repentance – is illustrated quite well by the differences in the baptisms offered by John the Baptist and Jesus. John says it himself:  "I baptize you with water …, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Mt 3:11, para)

John is pointing people toward repentance as he baptizes them in the river, as he reminds them in that flow of water over their heads and skin that our God is a forgiving God who keeps the covenant always. That is our promised forgiveness of sin.

And then, to take that freedom from the sin on our shoulders to some un-fath-om-able degree, Jesus comes with a baptism of Holy Spirit and fire. He comes with the power and the intention to purify us entirely, from the inside out, separating all that is holding us back from God’s vison and burning it up like so much chaff – our sin, the sins of others, our limitations, all that oppresses us. All of it in Jesus is burned away and made powerless.

The difference between John’s baptism in the Jordan and Jesus’ baptism of purifying Holy Spirit and fire is similar, I think, to the difference between the refreshing forgiveness of sin and the life-altering power of pushing beyond that first step of confession and forgiveness into the fullness of a life of repentance.

It becomes much more than being like the Sadducees and Pharisees who join the rest of the people at the river to hear a word of forgiveness and then return, many of them, to the sin they had just confessed.

In the purifying life of repentance John strongly suggests, we come up out of those cleansing waters of forgiveness and turn to God and God’s ways, God’s vision for us and our communities and the whole kosmos.

We are the people who wait in this time between the birth of the Messiah and the return of Christ. We are the people who wait while living lives of repentance – freed from sin and called to turn away from that sin and turn toward God and the kingdom of heaven come so near we can almost see that wolf and lamb living together in peace.

***

I came across a little Advent exercise (http://www.davidlose.net/2016/11/advent-2-a-reclaiming-repentance/) while preparing this sermon and I would like to commend it to you as part of your experience in this season of waiting. I think it is another way of understanding and intentionally behaving our way into what it means to live lives of repentance. And I think it perhaps reclaims some of what the church season of Advent is meant to be for us Jesus-followers, us who wait for the baby in the manger and the powerful return of Christ.

First, daydream. What is God’s vision for you? In that divine dream spoken to us by Isaiah, where there is neither predator nor prey – how do you daydream God sees you in that reality? Trust your gut in this daydreaming.

Second, chose just one area in your life in which you would like to repent – one place you would confess, feel God’s promise of forgiveness wash over you and then follow that call of repentance to leave that brokenness behind and turn instead to God. Just one thing. And then make that one thing a focus of your Advent waiting time. Maybe it is an unhealthy relationship that needs repair or addressing. Maybe it is how you use your time. Perhaps there is a practice or habit that you think of, one that would nurture a more abundant life for you or those around you.

And third, think about a communal situation in need of repentance. How can you imagine you might act to contribute to that change of direction? Can you volunteer or give to an organization or cause that stirs up your passion?? What about getting to know someone who is very different from you and in doing so building robust community instead of divided ones. What about something like praying for peace each night when the curfew siren goes off? What other communal need might you pray for diligently?

We are the people who wait. And we are a people called into full repentance while we wait. And as we do so, here in this community of faith, around our communion table, and out there in all our other communities, be blessed by the words of Paul to the Romans who were also waiting.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 15:13)

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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