Posted by: Johnold J. Strey | December 19, 2015

Sermon on Luke 3:1-6

Second Sunday in Advent — December 6, 2015 — Sermon starts at 23:00


Text: Luke 3:1-6


How is your Christmas preparation coming?

  • House decorated? Check!
  • Christmas party plans set? Check!
  • Presents purchased? Check!
  • Presents wrapped? Check!
  • Tree purchased? Check!
  • Tree in its stand? Check!
  • Tree decorated? Check!
  • Christmas travel plans finalized? Check!
  • Repentance? … (silence)

Wait a minute. What is “repentance” doing on a checklist of items to get done before Christmas? That doesn’t sound like it belongs. It hardly fits with the festive holiday mood that it buzzing around this busy shopping area that we find ourselves in the midst of.

Of course, the Christian Church has never been an institution that just goes along with the crowd. Repentance may never make it on to your pre-Christmas to do list. The secular Christmas songs we enjoy this time of year will talk of sleigh bells and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, but they will never talk about repentance at the arrival of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. You can enjoy all the songs you want that tell you that Santa Claus is coming to town, but you and I both know that the Advent that really matters is that Jesus Christ is coming to earth. And a major component of our Advent readiness—both to celebrate Jesus’ first arrival, and to be ready for his return—is repentance. That’s the message we will take home as we take a closer look at the Gospel for today from Luke 3:1-6: Advent readiness requires repentance.


Today’s Gospel begins: “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert.” Luke thought and wrote like a historian. He regularly included historical references in his two New Testament books. Think of the Christmas story from one chapter earlier: Luke mentions Caesar Augustus and the census he called for and the ruler governing Syria. One chapter later, in our selection for this morning, Luke does the same thing.

I won’t walk you through all of the historical names and references that Luke includes, but let it suffice to say that all of this information takes us to the year 26 A.D. by the estimates of many Bible scholars. But that’s not just historical information. Luke began the chapter this way, with references to real history and real people. He did not begin the chapter by saying, “Once upon a time, there was a man named John the Baptist.” John the Baptist prepared people for the arrival of Jesus’ ministry, but his message prepares us to celebrate Jesus’ first arrival and to be prepared for the second arrival of Jesus. John’s call to repentance happened in real time, in real history—and that’s one reason why we should take his call to repentance seriously as we get ready for Christmas. 

Of course, just because someone real said something real doesn’t mean that we necessarily take it to heart. There are all sorts of Hollywood celebrities that say real things in real time, but I really don’t care! So why should I take John the Baptist’s repentance-message seriously?

John’s message was not only historical. It was also a message with great authority. Luke tells us, “The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In a miraculous way, John the Baptist received a divine message from God that he was to preach to the people of Israel. Luke’s words emphasize that this was not just some cute phrase or pithy saying from God that he was to repeat, but that this was a divine message from the throne of God himself. A message from God certainly carries authoritative weight!

John also announced this divine message with authority. Our reading says that he “preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The word for “preach” that is used here is a significant term. It’s easy to forget that preaching is different than teaching. Both are important, and there is overlap of the two activities, but teaching involves sharing information and increasing knowledge, while preaching means to be a herald, an official spokesman with an official message. Preaching is an authoritative announcement. It is stronger than just imparting information. And when John the Baptist preached, he didn’t give any impression that he was sharing interesting religious information. He made it quite clear that what he had to say was really what God had to say. John’s message to repent so that people would be ready for Jesus was not really his message, but God’s message. John’s Baptism was not his ritual, but a command from God to deliver forgiveness in a very tangible way to the souls that took his repentance-message seriously.

If there was any doubt that John’s message wasn’t from God and didn’t have divine authority behind it, God made sure to address that concern hundreds of years before John was even on the scene. For example, in today’s First Lesson, the Old Testament prophet Malachi recorded words from God who said that he would send a messenger to prepare people for his arrival. That messenger was John the Baptist. And John’s ministry was also previewed in another Old Testament book, the book of Isaiah. Luke quoted Isaiah at the end of today’s Gospel: “As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, “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 mankind will see God’s salvation.”’”

John was the only prophet that was predicted by other prophets. That tells us that he is someone special—or more accurately, that his message was something special, and something to be taken seriously. The quote from Isaiah helps us to understand that. Before a king made a journey to a distant country, the roads that he would travel on would be improved. The obstacles would be taken out of the way, the potholes filled, and the overall journey would be unimpeded. In the same way, proper readiness for the arrival of Jesus means repentance over the sin in our lives that would get in the way of us welcoming Jesus with sincere hearts.


It wasn’t too long ago that one particular candidate for a major political office stated that he was a Christian, and then went on to say that he has never felt any need to confess his sins. Perhaps he meant that he had never gone to his minister privately to acknowledge something he had done wrong. But the statement that he was a Christian and yet never felt the need to confess his sins ought to sound like a terribly dissonant chord. That’s not how a Christian can approach sin, as if it’s no big deal.

Yet I fear that all too often the call to repent seems like it’s no big deal. I fear that if John the Baptist were preaching on the corner of Sunrise and Greenback, and we were walking past him, we would dismiss him as a crazy, overzealous preacher man. But how can we welcome Jesus without repentant hearts? Is our sin—which is rebellion against God and the single matter that Jesus came into this world to solve—no big deal? Is the back-biting gossip that never seems to cease no big deal? Do the uncomplimentary comments you make about others honor God, or so they just honor your ego? Is our own personal analysis that we’re “not too bad” going to give us a favorable verdict on the Day of Judgment? Can our Sunday best hide from God the sinful self that resides under our clothing?

If we fail to take John’s repentance-message seriously, the only person we are fooling is ourselves. And any person—whether it be someone “out there” or one of us in these pews—who thinks that the call to repent is no big deal will one day discover that they have been on a highway to hell all along!

Repentance is serious business. But repentance is not just groveling in guilt before God. If Jesus had just wanted us to grovel in guilt, he would not have become the innocent infant in the arms of the Virgin Mary. If Jesus had just wanted us to feel guilty, he would not have taken up all our guilt and sin and gone to the cross where he endured all of God’s punishment for our sin on our behalf. If Jesus had wanted us to feel hopeless in sin, he wouldn’t have given us the sure hope of eternal life accomplished by his resurrection from the grave.

That’s why repentance isn’t about guilt. It’s about preparation. Being ready for Jesus requires repentance. John the Baptist prepared the crowds by calling them to repent, and John’s words echo loud and clear today. And standing behind John the repentance-preacher is the risen Jesus, whose resurrection assures you that the sinful obstacles that would have otherwise blocked Jesus’ entrance into your heart have been removed by the blood he shed for you on the cross. And now the risen Jesus stands ready to forgive, eager to wash away our sins in the waters of Holy Baptism, and delighted to feed and comfort our souls as we gather again at this altar and receive his body and blood today.


St Marks Advent PictureMaybe you’re Christmas preparation checklist is all complete. Maybe you’re like me, and your Christmas preparation checklist has a long way to go before you’ve accomplished everything you want to do. Our level of preparation for the Christmas celebration may not be where we’d like it to be, but through faith in Jesus Christ, you are prepared for the arrival of Christ. Readiness requires repentance—repentance that God works in us, repentance that is not about guilt but about God giving us release from guilt, repentance that means that even if our Christmas to-do list is a mile long, the most important preparation for Jesus’ arrival is already taken care of. Amen.



%d bloggers like this: