2nd Sunday in Advent (C)        December 12, 2018     Text:  Luke 3:1-14     Rev. Jon Nack

            Dear friends in Christ, the question “What must I do?” has a different answer depending on whether it is asked in a spirit of repentance and faith, or asked in a spirit of self-righteousness and unbelief.

            For example, in Luke chapter 18, we are told about a rich young ruler who approaches Jesus with the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  To quote Luke:  [Jesus said, “You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’” 21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.  22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.

            No doubt this rich young ruler had done things that would have been considered good by his community.  No doubt he was highly respected and looked up to.  But there is also no doubt that, in his unbelief, he could not see the things that weren’t good in his heart, in his words, and in his actions.  Most of all, he could not see that he loved and trusted in himself, more than God.  His heart was hardened with lack of repentance and faith.  And so, to hold up a mirror to show him what was really in his heart (or what wasn’t there) Jesus told him to do the one thing he couldn’t do – sell all he had – give it all up and give it to the poor.  Sadly, this rich young man was really a fruitless tree – facing the axe of God’s judgment. 

            On the other hand, the crowds in our text for today from Luke chapter 3 are a different story.  Here we see the power of God’s Word to bring sinners to repentance and faith and put them on the road of discipleship and following Jesus.  What we see here is the way of repentance and faith.

            First comes the scorching, searing sting of the law.  “You brood of vipers!  Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath!  Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”  Your bloodline back to Abraham cannot save you.  Can’t you see that you are spiritually dead and fruitless?  And what will happen to a tree that bears no fruit when the owner comes?  That’s right!  You will be cut down and thrown into the fire!  And this isn’t a matter to put off or ignore because the axe is already at the root of the tree.  So said the voice of one sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord.

            John’s preaching was one of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  It was directed at turning people and preparing the for the arrival of the Lamb of God.  John was heralding the arrival of the king and the kingdom of God which comes as God’s Word is preached and hearts are turned and made alive and folks put their faith in the one who comes to take away their sins.

            You can almost see the light coming on for those in the crowds in the text.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit who enlightens us with His gifts.  He brings to repentance and faith and makes possible the fruits of the Spirit.

            I remember teaching one of my first adult classes as a field work student while still in the seminary.  I had a group of about 8-10 people.  Some came from different church backgrounds – some from no church background at all.  As part of becoming a communicant member, we took them through instruction as a way to teach the faith, impart the faith, and familiarize them with the faith so that they could say with good confidence that they agreed with the teachings of this church because they were in accord with what the Bible teaches.

            This particular lesson was about the way of salvation.  It was about grace.  It was about the full and complete salvation Christ accomplished for us – not by our works – but He has done everything necessary for us and opened the way of salvation.

            One woman, who had been a member of another church denomination all of her life was sitting down at the end of the table.  In that case, I could see the light go on in her eyes.  She actually piped up excitedly, “I get this now.  This doesn’t depend on me at all!  It is all about Jesus!  I’ve never heard that before!”

            That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.  But it doesn’t just stop there in bringing a person to repentance and faith.  It’s about more than being sorry for sins and confessing Jesus.  The Lutheran Confessions teach us that repentance is nothing more than the life of faith.  It is the acknowledgment of sin and turning again and again to Jesus for His healing words of forgiveness. 

            And then, the question, “What shall I do?” becomes a godly question of the repentant and faithful.  For if I believe that Jesus comes to me and makes me holy by His blood, and that He is coming again, than I am going receive Him in faith and walk as a child of God in this life, with Him and waiting for Him until He comes again.

            So “What shall I do?” is a question of the faithful.  And unlike the answer giving to the unbelieving rich young man, these answers are not impossible for those who trust Jesus and look to Him.

            What shall I do?  Use the means of grace.  Take comfort in your baptism.  Repent of your sins daily and arise to live before God and serve Him in righteousness, innocence and purity.  Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Hear the Word.  Continue to gather together and encourage one another as God’s people gathered for worship and all the more as you see the day approaching. 

            And then, love your neighbor as you love yourself.  Right where God has placed you, do what is right for the benefit and blessing of your neighbor.  If you have an extra tunic, share it with those who have none.  If you have food, do likewise.  Use what you have to do the right thing and care for others.  That is godly fruit when it grows out a heart that trusts and rejoices in Christ’s forgiveness. 

            Are you a tax collector?  Receive and live in the grace of your baptism, continue to repent and trust in what you received there and arise to live before Him daily.  And then, treat others fairly.  Use the power and authority that you have for good and do not abuse it or take advantage of others. 

            Are you a soldier?  Same thing.  Get down into the waters of baptism, receive the forgiveness of Christ Jesus and then come up and let what you have received there direct your daily walk.  Don’t use your authority or power to extort money from people and be content with your wages.

            What about you, people of God?  Having been cleansed and made new I the waters of Holy Baptism, drown your sin daily by repentance.  Trust what God says about you, that you are forgiven and Holy for Christ’s sake.  And then put that gift to use.

            God isn’t asking the impossible of you.  He’s given you all that is necessary?  Are you a husband or wife?  Then lead a sexually pure and decent life.  Honor your spouse.  Carry his or her burden.  Forgive.  Walk the way of Jesus.

            Are you a worker?  Be diligent, reliable, honorable and trustworthy.  Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God.  Look for ways to help improve the business and serve people.  Be patient and forgiving.  Walk the way of Jesus.

            Are you a student?  Do the best you can to respect your teachers, learn your lessons.  Don’t be lazy.  Apply yourself.  Know that God is preparing you for service.  He has a plan.  Don’t be distracted or misled by the ways of this world.  Walk the way of Jesus.

            Are you a retiree?  Use the gifts God has given you.  Be generous.  Look for ways to invest in the lives of others around you.  Mentor.  Encourage.  Serve as humble examples of those who are following you.  Be patient.  Encourage and equip younger leaders and servants in our community and church.  Let them know you care.  Pray for them.  Walk the way of Jesus.

            Use what you have, where you are, to serve and love others as yourself.  God isn’t asking the impossible.  Just simply that the blessings you have received in your Savior would flow through you.  This is the way of faith.  It is the way of Christ.  You see, we have come up out of the water, having been met by Jesus – to walk with Him on the way.  Amen.