Summary: An advent sermon on repentance
A Strange Christmas Passage
I wasn’t sure whether I should come here today, after all, how could I come and preach at a Church in a denomination that seems to have got their lectionary passage wrong. Here we are in the second Sunday of advent, only two more Sundays before Christmas day, and the lectionary tells me that I am supposed to be preaching from the only gospel in the Bible that has nothing at all to say about the birth of Christ. Not just that, but from a passage in that gospel where the only mention of Jesus’ name is in the title. Don’t you find that strange?
At least until you remember what advent is, it is a time of preparation for both the celebration of the birth of Christ and for the future coming of Christ in judgement and in glory. And when you hear John’s voice preaching that baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, isn’t that the only response we can make at this time of year. This was a birth that changed the world, as you have probably heard many times, time itself is measured by it, a birth that can change our lives if we allow it too. The only choice we can make is to either ignore it - as many around us do at this time of year, or allow it to change our lives and to do that we must first repent. And just as the first coming can change our lives, the second one will definitely do so. The Bible tells us that when Jesus returns to this earth, he will be coming in judgement and the ones who will fail this judgement will be those who do not repent.
I want us to look first at the people whom this message of repentance was for. It seems that John was no respecter of persons or position for Luke tells us in his gospel that “John rebuked Herod the tetrarch because of Herodias, his brother’s wife, and all the other evil things he had done, Herod added this to them all: He locked John up in prison.” This message of repentance was given to the most important and powerful man in the land at the time. Herod had been appointed by the Romans to govern Judea. His word was law, the only person who could give this man orders was the Roman Emperor himself.
What is the equivalent of Herod today in our country? Who would John have given this message of repentance to if he were here right now? Monarchists would probably say the Queen; she is head of our country as Herod was head of Judea. But of course, we all know that the Queen has little power in our land. And the power she does have is given to her by the government. This means that if John were giving his message today in England, it would be shouted out on the steps of the Houses of Parliament. Instead of stopping Herod’s chariot from driving along the road, it would be Tony Blair’s car he would get in the way of; and all the other leaders in our Government.
But would he need to give this message today in our country. When Bob Geldorf was speaking on the news the other day about the famine in Ethiopia, he said that the British government was one of the best in helping resolve famine in Africa. And if his recommendation isn’t enough, for many years, we have been a Christian country. We have a health service and an education system that in spite of its problems still works reasonably well. There would be no need for John to call for our government to repent, would there?
Until you realise that God would almost certainly open John’s eyes to situations like Afghanistan. A country where only a year ago, were supposedly fighting to release people from pain and bondage, as well as to defeat terrorism. Do you remember how one of the ways the war was justified was by comments about women there being imprisoned for not wearing a veil? This Christmas in that country there are just as many women in prison, and for reasons that to us seem just as stupid. The country that we helped free from the oppression of the Taliban is now under the oppression of many warlords. Yet, our government stays silent, and leaves these people in their pain. They have now turned their back on the pain and oppression going on there.
And even though we may be one of the best in what we do in Africa, there is still much more that we could do. On the day after the famine made the news in our country, the defence minister announces our countries plans to increase our capacity to make war. One years defence funds could go a long way to ending famine in many third world countries. The money spent on armaments in America and Britain in one year, could provide permanent solutions to these problems in every country. But spending money on missiles and bombs has a higher priority than solving the causes of famine.