The ADVENT ADVENT-ure
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
When the consultants were called to do the consultation with this congregation back when Pastor Mari left, I found it a very hard thing to swallow. I was deeply disappointed and very angry. I was so upset that I wanted to call the Synod office and demand that my name be put up for call to a congregation that needed a good pastor.
What was said about me by some people totally contradicted what I saw in myself and in past experience. Obviously something was wrong with this picture. There’s a failure of expectations; a failure of communication; a failure of vision.
What was really hard was admitting how wrong I was—about myself and my view of this congregation and my view of certain people. I don’t know about you, but I hate being wrong.
1. Do you know anyone who likes admitting they are wrong? Do you like to admit you’re wrong? Of course not!
a. John the Baptist made a career of going around preaching to people and telling them they are wrong. Not only are they wrong, but they absolutely MUST change. The word the Bible uses is REPENTANCE.
b. I wondered about this. Why would people want to hear how wrong they were and why would they want to be told they MUST change? Why would they tear their own clothing as a sign of change? Why would they allow themselves to be dunked in the cold water of the Jordan River as a sign of their changed lives?
2. I think we can understand how John the Baptist succeeded if we can understand the word REPENTANCE.
a. What is REPENTANCE?
i. It’s not a word the church invented. It comes from a long time ago—before there were roads or maps.
ii. Traveling through the wilderness a person can get lost. Getting lost in the wilderness can cost a person his or her life.
iii. When ancient nomads would travel, they were very aware of the fact that they might be going the wrong direction.
1. This awareness of going the wrong direction is step one.
2. But REPENTANCE doesn’t really happen until the traveler changes directions. That’s step two.
b. REPENTANCE was a matter of life or death to the ancient traveler.
c. REPENTANCE is a matter of life or death to anyone’s spiritual life.
i. The payoff for the nomadic traveler of ancient times was life itself.
ii. The payoff for the spiritual traveler today is life itself—eternal life.
When Hilda and I are driving somewhere and she notes that I make five right-hand turns in succession she may ask: "Are you lost?"
Being the humble soul that I am I respond, "no, I’m not lost."
She notes that I make three more right hand turns and then says something that no loving spouse should say to another: "Why don’t you stop and ask for directions."
Who wants to hear that?
3. John’s preaching in the wilderness probably first repelled people. Who wants to hear that he or she is all wrong? NOBODY! (I suspect people came to hear John because they couldn’t believe someone could actually get up in front of others and say things like this!)
a. At first people don’t want to hear the message.
b. I am very resistant when someone tells me I’m all wrong.
i. I will deny it, argue it.
ii. I will blame someone or some situation for causing any problems.
iii. I will get angry at the one who tells me I’m all wrong.
c. I’m guessing that when John preached in the wilderness, there was similar human resistance: lots of denial, argument, blame, and anger.
I don’t know about you, but often I don’t want to ask for directions. I want to believe that I’m self-reliant and in control.
Then the message sinks in—I admit to myself (and sometimes even to Hilda) that I really don’t know it all. I have to stop and ask for directions. Admitting that I’m lost is the beginning of repentance. That’s step one.
Step two is to take the advice I have received and actually turning the car around and going in the direction that I have been told to go in. It is an easy thing to do - as long as I don’t forget step one:
- The step that requires me to admit that I need to follow someone else’s directions
- The step that requires us all to admit that we need to do what God asks us to do rather than doing what we think is best.
Step one - and step two.
The town I consider my “home town” is Jetmore, Kansas. 140 years ago, the AT&SF Railroad continued building their railroad to this part of Western Kansas. The hills were made low, the crooked made straight, and the rough ways made smooth for the trains. But they stopped for some reason and never finished the railroad. It stopped there in the middle of the prairie and the little town of Jetmore was built where the railroad stopped.
Whenever the train came to town, it had to stop, turn around, and change directions if it was ever going to leave town again.
If step one is admitting we’re lost; step two is actually turning around—like the train had to.
4. REPENTANCE is the vital message for anyone wishing to have eternal life. It consists of two parts:
a. Step One: Admitting I am wrong. I am not the center of the universe. I am not the captain of my soul. I am not the knower of all things worth knowing.
b. Step Two: I need to turn around. Instead of going MY WAY, I need to turn around and go GOD’S WAY.
The Romans were quite creative in dishing out punishment. We know about how they used the cruel cross for punishment for those who went against Roman power. But the Roman poet Virgil describes how the Romans would take a captive and join this man face-to-face with a corpse. The captive had to endure the terrible stench and awful consequences of death until finally the poor victim would also die. Then and only then would he be released. Here’s what Virgil said in one of his poems:
The living and the dead at his command
Were coupled face to face, and hand to hand;
Till choked with stench, in loathed embraces tied,
The lingering wretches pined away and died.
5. So long as we believe that we are in the driver’s seat and that we are our own god, it is like being tied to a corpse. The end result is death and the days leading to our demise are filled with horrible stench and decay.
Bishop Fulton J. Sheen: “Pride is the king of vices. . . it is the first of the pallbearers of the soul. . . other vices destroy only their opposite virtues, as wantonness destroys chastity; greed destroys temperance; anger destroys gentleness; but PRIDE DESTROYS ALL VIRTUES”
6. The good news is that the one-two step of REPENTANCE leads to life.
a. First realize that we are headed in the wrong direction in our lives.
b. Then turn around and go in God’s direction.
c. That’s the two-steps of REPENTANCE.
7. And when we turn around, we find we are no longer LOST. THAT’S THE GOOD NEWS!
a. John the Baptist didn’t succeed by telling everyone how wrong they were.
b. He succeeded by telling them that by turning around, REPENTING, they would find LIFE.
i. The fullness of life
ii. Eternal life.
8. That same message is good news to us today. Our text tells us that
”Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth “
a. We don’t do that—God did that for us.
b. God sent his son to PAVE THE WAY to life.
i. Jesus died and rose again so that we don’t have to be tied face-to-face with death.
ii. Jesus died and rose again, so that we can have the fullness of life.
9. We don’t have to do anything other than the two-steps of repentance.
a. God has made the way easy for us to have the fullness of life now and in eternity—the valleys are filled, the mountains and hills leveled, the crooked is made straight and the rough places are now smooth. GOD DID IT!
b. No wonder John was so popular. He was giving the people substantive, genuine, real GOOD NEWS.
c. And when we tell it like it is, we follow John’s lead:
i. REPENT—turn around.
ii. HAVE LIFE—in all its fullness and abundance.
10. ADVENT is truly an ADVENTure, if it leads us to true life.
I love adventure. I’ve bungie jumped 140 feet with nothing but a bungie cord around my feet. I’ve parachuted at Lodi airport—coming straight down over Highway 99. I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China as well as Mt. Sinai. I love a great adventure. But there is no adventure nearly as great as the adventure of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and my hope for salvation.
a. Don’t get lost in PRE-CHRISTMAS garbage.
b. Do get lost in God’s plan of redemption: REPENT.
1. Take your sins and shortcomings to God.
Admit how lost you are.
2. Then turn around and follow God’s lead
ii. The road to salvation has been smoothed out.
iii. The road to God is simple, straight, and real.
iv. The road to life is yours. THIS REALLY IS A WONDERFUL ADVENTURE!
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The word ADVENT and ADVENTURE have a common root. ADVENT means “coming or arrival of something or someone of great importance”—such as the coming of Jesus Christ. ADVENTURE means “an unusual or exciting experience.” ADVENTURE comes from the Latin adventurus—which means “to arrive.”