Summary: Advent 2: God doesn’t forget us! He sent Jesus to free us from captivity to sin and to prepare us for the trip home.
[Thoughts presented in Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 14, Part 1 – Sermon helps for Advent 2 - are included in this message]
The popular Christmas movie, “Home Alone” builds around a theme of a little boy who is forgotten by the family as they go off on a Christmas trip. Can you imagine forgetting a member of the family, especially while going off on an airplane or a bus on a Christmas vacation? Wow, can you imagine what the forgotten member of the family would feel like?
Robert Fulghum tells a little story in his book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kingergarten.” He is sitting at his desk by a window and watching the kids playing hide-and-seek outside. One of the kids hides too well. And because it is getting dark, the other kids go home and leave that little kid hiding under a pile of leaves. That’s no fun! In fact, the joy of the game is turned to sadness when the child realizes that he’s left out. (Illustration from the journal: Concordia Pulpit Resources, Vol. 14, Part 1)
Have you ever felt like you were forgotten? Have you ever felt as if your contribution really didn’t matter? Have you felt left out or like a 5th wheel? It certainly is the kind of thing that makes for sadness and feelings of loneliness. God’s people in captivity certainly felt all these things. They had been captives of foreign invaders and surely must have felt abandoned and forgotten by God. But then God found a way to bring restoration to them. As God sought them out and returned them to their homeland, their sorrow is turned to joy. Let us read the words of the Psalm again: [Psalm 126 here]
The words of this Psalm speak of a time of happiness. The opening verse describes their joy as being like men who dreamed. When the most longed for desires of the heart are granted, people say, “my dream has come true.” Have you ever had a dream come true? That sense of walking on a cloud was what these people were feeling. The result was that they laughed and sang songs of joy. Their jubilation was such that those that saw and heard them were moved to say, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
We are entering a time of which song writers say, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” Christmas is a time of joy; everybody’s eager for a little good cheer. But let me ask you, as wonderful as the presents are, as wonderful as the celebrations and gatherings are, as wonderful as the food and drink are, is that really what makes Christmas the most wonderful time of the year? I would like to say, beloved, that given the best construction, these things, these earthly celebrations of a heavenly joy, are at best indicators of the reason for our joy. They are not the ends, nor the means, but simply indicators that our God has also done great things for us.
Well what great things has God done for us? First, let’s look at what God has done to turn our sorrow and loneliness to joy. Unbeknownst to us, we too have been captives. Maybe it isn’t the Babylonians who chained us down and dragged us off to another land. But surely, our captivity was of the same order; a captivity caused by our own sinful nature; a captivity that fills our lives and our world with valleys of despair; a captivity that causes hurtful pride that distances us from others; a captivity that hurts people that we love; a captivity that brings loneliness and forgotteness into our lives.
When it comes to the captivity that sin brings into our lives, it is just as profound as any physical captivity. Sin creates a prison whose bars and fetters enslave more profoundly because the captives have the illusion that they are free. And as long as the captor can keep the captives deceived in this way, their bondage is assured. As long as false hope; false freedom and false joy are offered and taken, the prisoners remain prisoners. There is no way that a person in sin’s bondage can free themselves. And so help must come from outside – from a living, loving, caring God.
God sent a forerunner – John the Baptist - to help prepare the way for Jesus. Today’s Gospel tells us about the job that the Baptist had: “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “[He was…] 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.’ ” (Luke 3:3-6)