Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd Peperkorn
Advent 2C (December 9, 2012)
For an audio version of this sermon,advent3c-2012
TITLE: “Empty and Full”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for today is from the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter 3.
Somehow when I think of this time of year, it always reminds me of our sluggishness as a people. We pray “Stir up our hearts, O God…” in our collect this morning. And how many times during this season do we hear WAKE UP or PAY ATTENTION or things to this effect? Truth be told, we are weighed down this time of year. This season, for many at least, it can become a burden.
So what is it that we are burdened with, you may ask? We are burdened with stuff. Now, I don’t mean only things, the earthly possessions we cling to so much. That is the beginning. He says, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” (Luke 3:7–8 ESV) In other words, let the actions of your life, the words and deeds that make up every day, let these actions of your life reflect what is in your heart.
Now I don’t know about you, but I for one do not like people talking about the relationship between my heart and my wallet. Or the relationship between my heart and my mouth. I would like to live in this fantasyland where what I believe and what I do have nothing to do with each other.
But that is not reality, dearly baptized. The reality is that your heart, your soul, your mind and your body are all interconnected. There is only one you. So if what you DO is not in keeping with who you ARE, then eventually what you DO is going to change who you ARE.
I am speaking, with John the Baptist here, about what we call repentance. Repentance means to turn or to be turned away from one life and toward another. It means turning your back on this empty way of life that the world’s sirens would call us to.
This is why we get this little interchange in our text:
“And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”” (Luke 3:10–14 ESV)
It would be easy, even tempting, for John to say something like, “Well, Jesus is the reason for the season, here. Keep Jesus in your heart and everything else will work out.” That kind of John the Baptist wouldn’t wear camel’s hair. That John the Baptist wouldn’t lose his head for speaking the truth to King Herod about his adulterous life.
No, our John the Baptist, the John of the Bible, speaks and gets to the heart of the matter. What bogged these people down was, quite simply, their stuff. Their food and clothing, their money and their love of money. That is what weighed them down.
How do the things of this life weigh you down? Are you so defined by your things that you don’t have time to hear God’s Word? And remember, your things may mean your physical stuff, but it could also mean your time, your activities, the myriad of things your kids do or you make them do. There are so many ways that you and I can get weighed down with the cares of this life, it is hard to even know where to begin.
The same was true for them just as it is for us. Setting aside even a few minutes a day to pray can become an almost impossible task, even if we even want to do it in the first place.
Yet the things of this life, they can weigh you down. Even if in and of themselves they aren’t bad, maybe even good, all of this stuff put together, well, it can get you to the point where you are so worried and full of care and anxiety that it is impossible even to lift up your eyes. This is why Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)
You see, beloved, that is what Jesus offers you, which we all so desperately need. He offers you rest. The things we cling to seem so important at the time. They seem so central to our identity. Yet when the things of this time pass and fade away, the longing remains. It is that longing, that desire for something more, that is what Jesus seeks to fill.
So repent. Empty yourself of all your stuff. Lay it all at the cross of Jesus. Your doubts and fears, your greed and your possessions, lay it all down before Him. For Jesus comes to give you something far, far greater than any of these gifts that are here today and broken and gone tomorrow. He comes to give you an eternal rest. He comes to put your soul at peace in the forgiveness of sins.
It is when you are emptied of all this stuff that God’s proper work really begins in you. When all of these things are swept away as in a refiners fire, it is then that God enters in to give you the peace which only He Himself can give. Remember our words from the Epistle, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6–7 ESV)
Sometimes being in the refiner’s fire is, well, sometimes it is painful. Purifying hurts sometimes. The fuller’s soap may grate, but the cleansing which only God can bring about is worth it. Don’t be afraid of God’s gifts. These things which seem so important, they all pass away. And in their place, God puts a little Babe, Christ Jesus, our Lord. And that is far greater.
Another way of putting this would be to say that in order for the good stuff to go in, the bad stuff has to get out. God does this purging by teaching you and I to let go of the things we cling to so much. But like Lot’s wife, we are tempted to turn our backs toward and look back to Sodom. Salt can be pretty appealing. Sodom, I’m sure, had a very good side somewhere. But it was all a lie. Only the real thing from our Lord will suffice.
So today come and be cleansed of your sins. Lift up your hearts to the Lord, for He is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He comes to you today, humble and lowly, riding under bread and wine. He comes to you to wash you, to purify you and to make you clean in the blood of the Lamb. Come to the Table of the Lord, be free of all things things which weigh you down. Jesus has come, and what He brings with Him is far greater than anything the world has to offer.
Let us pray:
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.