Let us pray: Dear Savior, the narrow, straight pathway to heaven and peace with You is the pathway of repentance. Today, put us on that pathway and provide us with the strength and courage not to wander off and get lost. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: Luke 3: 1-6
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
“Road Construction ahead for the next 10 miles.” Don’t you just hate it when one of those signs crops up? It means delays, bumpy travel, and a heightened frustration level. One of my members in Iowa, many years ago, was the chief engineer for that stretch of Interstate 35. Once, when I complained a bit to him about how bumpy it was he told me: “That’s because we engineered it for trucks with a maximum load of 85,000 lbs and most of them travel over 100,000 lbs. It slowly destroys the roadbed.” Well, we all travel on Rt 128, so we know the problem.
This month we begin pothole season. Already they’ve patched a few right outside on Rt 62. But far bigger and more dangerous potholes await all of us. They lie, not in the asphalt roadway, but in our hearts. And so today, we need to heed St. John the Baptist and start:
REBUILDING REPENTANCE ROAD
Whenever you undertake a construction project you need to plan it out, to “count the cost” as Scripture says. You also need to develop a timetable and a schedule of the work that needs to be done. You then need to begin the task and upon completion set forth a monthly maintenance plan. That’s in essence what St. John does when he quotes Isaiah and applies it to his work of preparing potholed hearts to meet the Coming Christmas King. “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s Salvation.”
First off, you and I have a problem. We have lousy pathways of repentance in our hearts. We harbor grudges. We dredge up old, hurtful history to punish others with when we’re grumpy or out of sorts. We get mad and then plot how to get even. We view others’ sins in a gloating fashion instead of with: “There but by the grace of God go I.” And so we bump along unhappy with life and clueless as to why.
St. John’s job was to burst on the scene and wake people up to their need for a repentant heart. It was to reveal to them just how lost they were because their hearts were anything but filled with sorrow over their sins. It was to carry out Isaiah’s pithy words. Did you notice that valleys need to be filled in and mountains made low? Valleys are not tiny and neither are mountains. They’re huge. They take months and years of effort to level them off. Boston’s back bay took something like 25-30 years of continuous trains—day and night– coming into MA from as far away as Pennsylvania and dumping fill—after the Tremont, those 3 large hills surrounding the Boston Common were already leveled! So, when it comes to repenting of your sin, as they say: “Houston, we’ve got a problem!”
Recognition of the problem leads to a plan. God’s plan for rebuilding repentance road includes actively examining the 10 commandments and seeing just how often we have failed to keep them—especially in our hearts. Potholes come from what you don’t see, the freezing moisture underneath. So it is with sin. If you’re greedy it will fester inside long before it actively shows itself. If you’re lust-filled it will start in the heart and eventually burst into view. Many years ago I was rooming with a fellow pastor at a synod meeting. One night I went to bed early and he came in very late—apparently out for a beer with friends. The next morning he was troubled and asked me to hear his confession. It seems he had committed adultery in his heart with another woman and it broke him up inside. He confessed, I forgave him, and we said a prayer of thanksgiving to God. Yes, daily confession of sin, weekly confession at church—these are the implementation of God’s plan for rebuilding repentance road. Don’t neglect them. They work. For repentance is saying you’re sorry to God from the bottom of your heart for hurting Him and then receiving His patch of forgiveness to smooth the hurt away.
Another aspect of rebuilding repentance road is counting the cost and paying the bill. From our vantage point the bill is steep. It means humbling yourself before God, not playing comparison games about how others do worse things than we do, and grieving in your heart of hearts for breaking your baptismal vows to Him. Basically it means swallowing your pride. Admitting you don’t have all the answers and you’re not in control of your life.
But the real cost of this rebuilding project is completely free! That’s right, free! That’s because Jesus Christ has already paid for all of our sins against Him in full. He paid the price for our sins, death, on a cross. And from that cross He gives us those sweetest of words: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Isaiah says it well: “And all people will see God’s salvation.” Look into the manger. What do you see? A baby? A sweet little boy? Or, God’s salvation? Look at the cross. What do you see? An instrument of torture? An ancient symbol of the Christian faith? Or, God’s salvation? We’d all go bankrupt if we had to pay our debt of sin to God. No matter how hard we would try to follow God’s straight and narrow, who could achieve perfection, never wandering off, on his or her own? Like my pastor friend, we all stand guilty before God for more things than we can name. But Christ was innocent and His loving blood paid the bill in our place. That fact changes people inside. No longer do they rebel against God’s narrow way, they embrace it in love—because He first loved them.
Christmas is all about God loving the unlovable. Advent is all about getting our hearts ready to receive that love. Together they combine to help us rebuild repentance road. And now it is up to each of you to practice what I’ve preached…..Amen