Readings: Malachi 3:1-7 and Luke 3:3-17
I have to say that Advent is one of my favorite times of the year. As a person who prays with music, the hymns of Advent just speak to me of the hopeful expectation that we live during this season. I find that the gradual progression of lights on the Advent wreath leads me to open myself more and more to the warmth of God’s presence. The growing numbers of Christmas lights on people’s houses lights up the darkness and reminds me of the light of Christ. The truth is, our world has all sorts of reasons not to hope in anything, but our Church reminds us every year at this time that we have the only reason for hope that we need: the promise of Jesus Christ.
Throughout Advent this year, I have chosen to reflect on God’s promises. I am finding that the hope that reflecting on those promises brings casts out the darkness and depression of barren trees, cold weather, and earlier nightfall. The hope of God’s promises also casts out the darkness of sin and death that seems to surround us and creep up on us in every moment. Last Friday night, I turned on the evening news, only to be filled with worry for my brother-in-law who works downtown and travels in and out of the Ogilvie Transportation Center, which had been closed due to gunfire in the building. The news continues to bring worry and concern for our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
It’s so obvious that our world needs a Savior. Not just two thousand years ago, but right here and right now. We need a Savior who will lead us to justice and peace. We need a Savior who will lead us to reach out to the poor and oppressed. We need a Savior who will bind up our wounded lives and world and present us pure and spotless before God on the Last Day. We need a Savior who can bring light to this darkened world and hope to our broken lives. We need a Savior who can bring us God’s promise of forgiveness.
This Advent, I’ve been teaching about an ancient prayer of the early Church. In the years just after Jesus died and rose and ascended into heaven, the early Christians would pray in their language, Maranatha or “Come, Lord Jesus.” So I’ve been saying that we should all pray that prayer every day during Advent. When we get up in the morning, and just before bed at night, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” When you need help during the day or just need to remind yourself of God’s promises, pray “Come, Lord Jesus.” The early Christians prayed this way because they expected Jesus to return soon. We do too. Even if he does not return in glory during our lifetimes, we still expect him to return soon and often in our lives and in our world to brighten this place of darkness and sin and to straighten out the rough ways in our lives. Let us keep the expectation of the Lord and the hope of his promise of forgiveness alive in our hearts:
Come, Lord Jesus and change our hearts to be more loving and open to others.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to pray; help us to grow in our spiritual lives.
Come, Lord Jesus and dispel our doubts; help us always to hope in your forgiveness.
Come, Lord Jesus and heal those who are sick and comfort all the dying.
Come, Lord Jesus and bring those who wander back to your Church.
Come, Lord Jesus and turn us away from our addictions.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to be patient with ourselves and others.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to eliminate injustice and apathy.
Come, Lord Jesus and teach us to welcome the stranger.
Come, Lord Jesus and give us an unfailing and zealous respect for your gift of life.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to be generous; teach us all to practice stewardship of all of our resources.
Come, Lord Jesus and help us to work at everything we do as though we were working for you alone.
Come, Lord Jesus and bind up our brokenness, heal our woundedness, comfort us in affliction, afflict us in our comfort, help us to repent and to follow you without distraction or hesitation, give us the grace to pick up our crosses and be your disciples.
The good that John the Baptist preaches in this evening’s Gospel reading, is that God does indeed promise to forgive us. Wherever we are on the journey to Christ, whatever the obstacles we face, God promises to make it right through Jesus Christ. We may be facing the valley of hurts or resentments. God will fill in that valley. Perhaps we are up against a mountain of sinful behavior or shame. God will level that mountain. We may be lost on the winding roads of procrastination or apathy. God will straighten out that way. We may be riding along on the rough and bumpy ways of poor choices, sinful relationships and patterns of sin. God will make all those ways smooth. And all flesh – every one of us, brothers and sisters – we will all see the salvation of God. That’s a promise. God will forgive us all of our sins.
All we have to do is to take God up on it. And that’s why we are here tonight. God promises us forgiveness, and we are here to receive it. As we confess our sins and receive absolution, we make Christ’s light a little more brilliant in our world and in our lives. There may only be one unforgivable sin: the sin of thinking that we don’t a Savior. When we think we’re okay and that there is nothing wrong with our lives or our relationships, then we’re lost. When we live our lives as if we’re the only one who matters, we’re very far from God. It’s not that God doesn’t want to forgive us this sin, it’s more that we refuse to have it forgiven. If Advent teaches us anything, it’s got to be that we all need that baptism of repentance that John the Baptist preached, that we all need to prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts, making straight the paths for his return to us.
Come, Lord Jesus!