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Second Sunday in Advent

Mark 1:1–8

James T. Batchelor

Advent 2, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Dec 7, 2014 

Today is the anniversary of a great tragedy in the history of the United States the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.  Ordinarily, working such a day into a sermon is sort of awkward, but not today.

You see, the United States military had been experimenting with a new technology called RAdio Detection And Ranging or RADAR for short.  The military had just finished installing a RADAR station near Pearl Harbor.  The equipment was up and running and the army was in the process of running drills and training with the new technology.  When the Japanese planes showed up on the equipment, the RADAR operators notified the Fighter Control Center.  The only officer in the center at the time was an army lieutenant who had not been fully trained.  He interpreted the data as a flight of replacement aircraft from the mainland.  He told the RADAR operators to forget about it.

The RADAR equipment properly tracked the Japanese aircraft as they attacked Pearl Harbor and then tracked them back to their carriers.  The problem was that no procedures were in place to properly use the RADAR information.  It is very likely that the attack on Pearl Harbor would have turned out a lot differently if the attack would have taken place only a few weeks later after the RADAR had gone on line and all the training had been complete.  One wonders what the outcome would have been had someone known what to do with the warning provided by the RADAR.

There is a warning in the Gospel we recently read.  John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  John followed in the footsteps of the prophets before him and proclaimed repentance and forgiveness.  He was proclaiming this message with the Word of God and with the waters of baptism.  The importance of baptism in his ministry earned him the name John the Baptist.

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets.  Just like all of Gods prophets, he warned people of sin and proclaimed the coming of Messiah to save us from our sin.  Unlike his predecessors, he proclaimed Messiah after Messiah was born.  Unlike the earlier prophets, Messiah actually came in the flesh to hear Johns proclamation.

Johns proclamation of repentance began with the proclamation of sin.  In fact, all of Gods prophets proclaimed sin.  Faithful pastors also proclaim sin.  Why is this proclamation of sin so necessary?  After all, people dont like to hear about sin and they sure dont like to hear about the punishment of sin temporal death here on earth and eternal death in the suffering of hell.  That is not a popular message, nor is it politically correct.

We really wouldnt have to talk about sin if people were honest about the state of the world around us.  We have always had the resources to adequately feed and clothe every person on the planet.  Never the less, children still go naked and starve to death.  It takes a lot of energy, resources, and wealth to go to war.  It is a lot easier to be at peace.  Never the less, the world has never really had peace.  A lot of people think that the Golden Rule is natural that if we are nice to others, then they will be nice to us.  Yet history seems to teach that if you are nice to others, then they will take advantage of you.  God has given us all the resources we need to make heaven on earth, but earth remains a valley of sorrows.  If mankind were basically good, we would have used the gifts of God to solve humanitys problems long ago.  The fact that we still have problems is solid, experimental evidence that humanity is not good.

The fact is that humanitys greatest earthly enemy is humanity itself.  Dictators, government bureaucracies, criminal elements, and others work to suppress their fellow man.  None of us is immune from the desire to exploit others for our own purposes.  We have met the enemy and he is us.

There are plenty of verses in the Bible that tell us that we are natural born sinners, but we dont really need the Bible to tell us this.  Experience is enough.  We dont need to teach our children to lie, to hate, to covet, to worship the self.  The sins are all very natural.  Instead, we need to teach children to share, to serve, to love, and so forth.  Virtues are very unnatural.  Even without the Bible, it is easy to see that there is something very wrong with people.  If there werent we would have solved the problems of society long ago.

Not only is humanity not honest about sin in general, but each of us is in denial concerning our own personal sin.  We tell ourselves that although the world is really messed up, I am not so bad.  When things go bad around us, we reply, Its not my fault! Even though the sin clearly belongs to us, we point at others and blame them.  We follow in the footsteps of Adam who blamed God for creating a defective woman.

John the Baptist comes along and points his bony finger in your face.  His message is that you are a sinner.  You are the one who is guilty.  You need to repent.  Stop blaming everyone else for your problems.  If you try to hide your sin, its infection will only spread.  Eventually, it will kill you not just here on this earth, but forever in eternity.  You deny your own sin at your peril.

Like John, all the faithful prophets of old and all faithful pastors warn us of sin, but this is no good for us if we reject the warning.  Just as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was devastating partly because an untrained army lieutenant didnt know what to do with the warning he received, so the warning that we heard from John in todays Gospel does us no good if we reject it.

If you could ask a survivor of the attack on Pearl Harbor, he would tell you that he would have given anything to receive the warning that the Japanese military was on the way.  Such a warning had the potential to save thousands of lives.

In a similar way, the hearer should be grateful for pastors who warn of sin.  Sadly, that is not the case.  So often the warning makes hearers angry instead.  Pastors often hear complaints such as, How dare you tell me that I am a sinner?  How dare you tell me that I deserve eternal punishment forever in hell?

Yet faithful pastors simply want to do what the RADAR operators wanted to do for Pearl Harbor warn of the attack of the enemy.  They simply want the Holy Spirit to take their hearers toward the solution to the problem.  They simply want the Holy Spirit to make their hearers aware that that their primary problem is their own sin that all their other problems find their root in that sin.

John the Baptist calls on you to trust the Messiah and repent!  Get your sins out in the open.  Confess them to almighty God.  Rely on His mercy.  Look to the forgiveness of sins you received through baptism.  If you have not yet received baptism, then be baptized for the forgiveness of sins!

John was the fore runner of Jesus Christ.  He prepared the way.  He pointed to the one who would follow him.  After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. John exhorted his followers to believe in the Messiah who was to come.

This mighty savior is no one other than Jesus Christ.  He is the one whom the prophets proclaimed and He is the one in whom they believed.  This mighty savior is the solution to our problem of sin.  He is the one who earned forgiveness for our sins and offers that forgiveness to us for free.  He is the one who makes us holy in Gods sight.

How did He do this?  As mighty as Jesus is, He demonstrated His might in weakness.  Even though we are not worthy to touch His feet, He allowed mere men to nail Him to a cross.  It was from the apparent weakness of that cross that Jesus demonstrated His greatest might.  In the apparent defeat of death, Christ conquered death.  He became the solution for sin by taking our sin onto Himself and paying the price for it.  It is only through Him that we receive the forgiveness of sins.

Suppose the RADAR warning would have been successful on that December 7 73 years ago.  Suppose the innocent could have found shelter.  Suppose the military could have mounted a defense.  Many of the people who died in that attack would have lived instead.

Now suppose there was a person who thought the attack was a hoax.  Suppose that person refused to take shelter.  Suppose that person died.  That person would be dead because of his own foolishness.  He would be dead because he rejected the warning of attack and the opportunity of shelter.

Just as the Holy Spirit makes us aware of our sin, He also makes us aware of the savior and creates faith in us so that we can receive His salvation.  Some people reject the Holy Spirits gift of faith.  They reject His warning and they reject the salvation of Jesus Christ.  These people are like someone who rejects the warning of the battle and the opportunity for shelter.  They are responsible for their own destruction.

Do not be so foolish.  Listen to Johns warning and repent of your sin.  Listen to Johns offer of salvation and believe in the one who is coming the one whose sandal strap John is not worthy to loosen.  [Acts 16:31] Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. Amen

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