The Lord Stirs You Up
Of the 4 ancient Collects appointed for Advent, 2 ask the Lord to stir up His power. Today's asks the Lord to stir us up. Something has to change if we're really going to celebrate Christmas. The world knows this too, doesn't it? Christmas folklore is based on this. Scrooge and the Grinch must become different than they are. We pray for that radical of a change. How does the Lord do the wonderful miracle of stirring up our hearts? By putting fear into them as in Scrooge? Or by putting sweet sounds into them as in the Grinch who hears all of Who-ville singing? The Lord does a bit of both, but He uses the most despised, derided, and detested form of oral communication there is: preaching.
That's right; the Lord stirs you up by the preaching of John. John comes thundering into our Church at Advent proclaiming that you are to prepare to meet one holier than John, one stronger than John. You are to prepare to meet Jehovah. But that probably doesn't stir you that much. Although when John first came his preaching brought to him the "whole Judean countryside and all he people of Jerusalem", although Josephus estimates John baptized 200 to 500 thousand people, you're more stirred by shopping malls, the Trail of Lights or a coming Christmas party. Your heart is more stirred up at the prospect of having to meet a jolly Santa, expectant kids, or demanding relatives this Christmas.
You just aren't hearing the preaching of John. He is the one Isaiah says would prepare the way of the Lord. That word Lord is the word Jehovah. The one who comes at Christmas is the One who made Sinai smoke with fire and rock with earthquakes. How did those people react? I'll tell you how. They peed their pants and begged Moses to go up and talk to Jehovah so they wouldn't have to. The One you're to be prepared to meet is the one who drowned the Egyptian armies, sent the plagues, and who all the Old Testament agreed that if you saw Him, you died. You prepared for that?
I don't think so. John doesn't only preach who you're to meet but how you're to meet Him. You are to make straight paths. John is giving you a physical picture of a spiritual reality. But in these days of bulldozers, dynamite, and earthmovers, that doesn't sound so hard. We go by where Highway 130 is being built and see a road passing through hills appearing overnight. But think how this physical picture looked to the people John first preached to. It was impossible. Think how little we could do to build Highway 130 if all we had were shovels and rakes.
John is stirring your heart up by telling you there is no way you can be prepared to meet Jehovah. O you can be ready to meet a jolly Santa, your expectant kids, and those demanding relatives come Christmas morning, but there is no way you can be ready to meet Jehovah. That is as impossible for you as building a road from Georgetown to Sequin. The crises confronting you this holiday isn't all the things you have to do to be ready for Christmas. There is a much bigger crisis breathing down your neck than you can imagine. Jehovah comes who's not only holy but in whose presence sin and sinners can't exist. He will not, He cannot, He does not "ho, ho, ho" your sins away like some cosmic Santa.
The Lord answers your prayer to stir up your heart by John's preaching. He reaches into the depths of your heart with the accusing Law saying you are to be prepared to meet Jehovah and that your wretched sinfulness makes this impossible. So John preaches to you to repent by confessing your sins. John doesn't preach for you to "try harder" or to "do better." He doesn't preach for you to give excuses for the way you are. You've not repented at all if you say, "I'm sorry, but that's they way I am." You've not repented enough if you say, "I'm not friendly enough," "I haven't been sensitive to the needs of others," Or, "I need to be more loving."
Failings like these deserve slaps on the wrists, maybe therapy, but your sins deserve hell, burning, painful, torturous hell forever. Your problem is not just that you offend people. Your problem is that you offend the holy Jehovah. Your problem is not just that you've offended Him by doing this or not doing that. Your problem is that all you do, think, say, and are stinks before Him. Your odor makes Him wretch. Even if the Lord put you in a coma so you couldn't move or speak, still your sinfulness would merit all of Jehovah's wrath and hatred and call forth all His judgment when He came. The repentance and confession John calls for is lifelong, but you don't have it, do you? You're not even as repentant before Jehovah as Scourge was before the spirit of Christmas future.
Jehovah stirs up your heart by John's preaching, but He only stirs it up enough to make you certain you're going to hell. You need more preaching than just John's. You need my preaching. Yes, through the ordinary preaching of me, through the boring preaching of me, through the foolishness of my preaching, Jehovah stirs you up.
Jehovah is indeed coming to meet you, but He doesn't come in terrors as the king of kings; He comes in mercy with healing in His wings. Jehovah who rocked Sinai and without pity drowned the Egyptians comes at Christmas as a Baby. Jehovah wraps Himself in flesh and blood through the womb of a virgin, and who's afraid of a Baby? Jehovah continues coming to sinners in wrapped up ways. Jehovah who speaks as the voice of many waters wraps Himself in the placid waters of Baptism. Jehovah, whose voice sounds like thunder to those being judged, sounds in our ears as a still small voice speaking forgiveness. Jehovah who gives the body and blood of His enemies over to the unimaginable torturers of everlasting hell, gives His Body and Blood to us for everlasting life.
But what about the mountains and hills? What about the need for a straight path? What about the impossibility of you building a highway from Georgetown to Sequin with a shovel and rake? Well, the Old Testament lesson answered that. First the Law preached make straight paths; then the Gospel promised what God would do: "Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made lowa|"
Listen to my preaching. Jehovah makes the path to you. Over centuries, from Adam and Eve on, Jehovah has been laying tracks. He promised to come as the Seed of the Woman to crush the head of Satan. The Old Testament traces His path to get to you. Through the valleys of human wretchedness, over the mountains of demonic plots, through the hills of human sinfulness, Jehovah has made His way to you. Though Satan did everything in his power to stop it; though man in his sinfulness constantly got in the way; though terrified sinners like you wondered if Jehovah would ever come for them, come He did.
And He still comes today. Again on tracks that He has laid. He is the one who has made the waters of Baptism, these Words that I'm preaching, and this Meal that we'll be celebrating ways to meet you. Though reason, pride, and unbelief deny that Jehovah comes through these, they can't stop Him from doing what He has promised, from being where He has promised. As often as you look for Jehovah in your Baptism, listen for Him in the Absolution, or dine not only with Him but on Him in Communion, you will find Him there.
John's preaching commands you "prepare to meet Jehovah;" my preaching tells you that meek, mild, Jesus is Jehovah. John's preaching commands you to make a path for Jehovah that you can't make; my preaching tells you that Jehovah has laid the tracks to you through Mary's womb, Water, Words, Bread, and Wine. John's preaching tells that you must constantly repent and confess; my preaching tells you that Jesus gives the repentance and confession John demands.
This last part is very crucial. Unless you get this, you will end up like Scrooge. Remember when he is on his knees in tears before the spirit of Christmas future saying how completely sorry he is and begging for another chance? Now surely that was some sort of repentance for his sins, but that wasn't the kind God looks for. Scrooge's repentance was only looking for another chance to save himself. That's the repentance the Prodigal Son started home with, remember? "Father, I've sinned against you; make me as one of your hired men." He'd work his way back in to his father's house. But, the grace and mercy of his father running to meet him, tore that false repentance right out of his heart and he was given true repentance, "I've sinned; I'm no longer worthy to be called your son."
Seeing that Jehovah comes not only to meet you but in humility to save you will tear false repentance out of your heart. Jehovah meeting you will stir up your heart to true repentance. He is coming to meet you to get your sins. Jehovah didn't make the 4,000 year journey from Adam and Eve to Mary expecting to find you holy. He came to take your place under God's holy law that constantly accuses you. He came to offer up His holy body in place of your sinful one to suffer all the punishments of hell. Jesus came for your sins, not your holiness. He wants your sins, all of them.
He still comes for them today. He comes in Baptism to drown that old Adam that you can't stop, so hand him over. He comes in Absolution to forgive all your sins, so confess them all don't hold any back since Jesus is here to forgive them all. He comes in Communion to join His Body that is forgiveness, life, and salvation to your body that is sin, death, and damnation, so come confessing what you are to receive what He is.
Terror stirs Scrooge's heart; the Grinch's is stirred by hearing through the singing of Who-ville that even his wickedness can't stop Christmas from coming. Scrooge's terror comes from the preaching of the Law and leads to him trying harder. The Grinch's heart is stirred by the preaching of the Gospel that Christmas comes despite a hardhearted sinner like him. This leads to his heart growing 3 sizes. Sinners need the preaching of both Law and Gospel; both stir their hearts, but only the Gospel makes them grow. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday in Advent (20051204); Mark 1: 1-8