Advent 2C, (December 6, 2015)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd A. Peperkorn
TITLE: “The Brood”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for today is the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter three.
Stir up our hearts, so we pray in the collect. And if there’s one thing that John the Baptist is good at, it is stirring things up. He is the great leveler, bar none. It didn’t matter if you were rich or poor, high-born or low-born, Jew or Gentile. If you came to hear John preach, out there in the wilderness, you were going to be stirred up.
And this stirring up, at least at the beginning, well, it wouldn’t be pleasant. Listen again to those words about John from Isaiah:
““The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”” (Luke 3:4–6 ESV)
We have come to hear those words as part of the sweet saccharine of the Christmas season, but they aren’t. Imagine, if you will, a spiritual construction team coming in with graders, explosives, asphalt, backhoes, all of it coming to do work on your soul. What these words describe is God’s Law working upon your hearts, and the work, well, it’s messy, and hard, and you aren’t really meant to like it.
Because you see, you are broken. Your pride lifts you up like the Tower of Babel, and your despair brings you down to hell. Your path is not straight and clear, receiving from the Lord His mercy and grace. Rather, your path is crooked and windy. You go this way and that, one moment generous, and the next moment you are selfish, or full of gossip, or jealous of your neighbor. You never know from one minutes to the next which Christian is going to show up. Will it be the true one, or the fake one? The follower of Jesus, or the prideful, self-righteous one?
This is why John called the crowds a brood of vipers. Any way you look at it, calling a group of people a big pile of snakes isn’t good. You get the picture of everyone crawling upon each other, scrambling to get on top, when no one knows why or what purpose it serves.
John, it seems, may have been on to something there. Perhaps we are more like his brood of vipers than we would like to admit. Our lives are more scattered, more busy, and yet less generous than ever. When the people asked John what they should do, his answer was pretty simple: take care of your neighbor. Don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t steal. You know, the Ten Commandments. But when you are constantly trying to run over the other guy, in the serpent scramble to get on top of the pile, well, things like love and mercy tend to go out the window, and become snake bait along the way.
So I say to you the same thing that John said to his brood: Repent.
You see, beloved, you are not finally a brood of vipers, destined to bite and devour one another. You are children of God, baptized, beloved. The one who follows after John is the same one who crushes the head of the great serpent, Satan himself (Gen. 3:15). St. Paul said in Philippians that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6 ESV) God is at work in you and for you. He will not let you remain in your sins. He comes even now with His love and mercy to forgive your sins, to remake your heart into something altogether new. Jesus Christ goes into the pit of vipers, and in the greatest gift of all, turns them, that is, YOU, into something new.
And what is this new new thing that He is making? He is making you anew. In Holy Baptism you were filled with the righteousness of Christ, without spot or blemish. It was given to you, and is yours even now. You may forget and become more viperous, but He does not forget. So again and again, slowly but surely and with great patience and love, God continues to remove the scales of your sin, and give you that new life which can only come in Christ, Jesus our Lord.
The prophet Malachi wrote many years before, where the Lord said through him: “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6 ESV) God’s love and mercy for you is steadfast and enduring. His purpose for you does not end because you fall. He lifts you out of the pit, sets you up at His Table, and reminds you once again that you are not a brood of vipers, you are a brood of children, His children, holy and righteous.
Be who you are, beloved. Be his child, for He loves you with an everlasting love, which will never go out or be quenched, no matter how much the devil and the world may try. Be who you are in Him.
Let us pray:
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith to life everlasting. Amen.