Summary: Real Christianity involves running to Jesus, repentance and rejoicing
RUN REPENT AND REJOICE
Suppose I began my message this morning by saying,
“Hello you bunch of snakes, why did you come this morning? Hoping to make a few brownie points with God?”
Well that is similar to what John the Baptist told his crowd.
When John saw the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said to them, "You brood of Vipers
(or you bunch of snakes!), who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"
John had lived in the desert and was very familiar with brush fires which caused the snakes to slither away from the heat.
He was saying the only reason these hypocrites came for baptism was to do one more religious act to try to avoid the fire of hell.
They had something in common with today’s “Christmas Christians.”
Listen to this statement written by Vincent Carrol, a newspaper editor.
“To the many holiday Christians who long ago stopped attending church with any regularity, Christmas somehow doesn’t seem complete without dipping a toe into the cultural waters of their youth. They attend Christmas services in part for the same reason that they wear a Christmas tie or hang a wreath on the front door: It’s part of the total holiday experience. But if they no longer practice their faith with much conviction, they still respect its memory. And, after all, it is just possible that a child was born in Bethlehem who changed the world, and it’s never a bad idea to hedge one’s bets."
Are we here this morning to hedge our bets? Or are we here to prepare our hearts for the return of the Lord?
Each Advent season does two things — it remembers the first time the Son of God came into the world, and it looks forward to the second time the Son of God will come into the World.
We need to realize that we are not just preparing to celebrate the birth of Christ.
As important as God’s incarnation is to the faith of the Christian church, John’s message is not about a baby born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger.
His message is about opening our hearts and minds to the fact that in the person of Jesus Christ, God has come among us, and invites us to become members of his kingdom.
It is a message that states that God has acted to redeem us from sin and to restore us to a new life in relationship with God.
That’s why our reading ended with the statement that John preached “the good news” to them.
It certainly didn’t start off that way.
It was more like, “I’ve got good news and bad news; here’s the bad news first.
John knew that the Pharisees and Sadducees weren’t coming to be baptized because they were sorry for their sins.
He knew instead that they wanted to be baptized because that was the thing to do if you were a religious person, and keeping up such appearances was a full time job for these leaders.
They didn’t seriously think that they needed baptism because after all they were Abraham’s children!
Didn’t that mean they had a free ticket to heaven? Weren’t they God’s chosen people?
We too could come to worship with that same attitude couldn’t we?
We could come to church not because we want to confess our sins and hear God’s word, but out of some sense of obligation to family or tradition.
In the process we may even trick ourselves into believing that heaven is ours by virtue of our goodness and church attendance.
We are deceitful, just like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, if we outwardly live the life of a believer without really obeying God.
So my first point is we must RUN…from our sinful ways.
You are not “born” a Christian by being born into a Christian home.
You must repent of your sins and exhibit a changed lifestyle of righteous living and integrity aligned with God’s purpose.
“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” is John’s way of saying there should be evidence that our hearts have been changed by Christ’s love and forgiveness.
When we REPENT, we turn from a sinful lifestyle and show remorse for what we have done.
But what does it exactly mean to show remorse over sin? It doesn’t mean to be sad that others are offended by our sins, or sad that we got caught. That’s regret, not remorse.
To show remorse means to change our mind about sin. It means that we no longer view sin as something that is fun and exciting, or something which can’t be helped and isn’t that harmful any way.
It means that we see sin for what it is – something that damages our relationship with God and with others.