December 22, 2019: 4th Sunday in Advent

4th Sunday in Advent

December 22, 2019

Let us pray: Dear Savior, in a few days we will celebrate Your birthday.  Today we ask You to really prepare us for that event by pondering exactly what it means to truly repent.  Otherwise, You will not find a place to reside within us and Christmas 2019 will be meaningless for us.  Amen


TEXT:  Matthew 3: 1: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

Dearly Beloved In the Christ Child:

          Advent is about repentance, preparing your heart to meet the Baby Jesus.  Today I want to delve into the nuts and bolts of what repentance truly means.  I’ll do so by talking about a few people that I grew up with and have kept track of over the years.

          The first person is: Joe.  Joe attended my home church.  He was confirmed there.  I grew up with him and had him in many of my school classes.  He was a friend.  Joe was smart, full of energy, but also headstrong.  He liked girls, a  lot.  He went away to college and afterwards got married.  The  marriage lasted a few years and ended with divorce.  Before his divorce he was dating another woman and soon married her.  They had two children.  Again, after 15 years or so, his wandering eye spied another woman and divorce followed.  I remember running into him and listening as he angrily ran down his recent spouse.  Forgiveness wasn’t a part of his persona any longer.  Church wasn’t part of his life, either.  Are we surprised?  For many years thereafter he “dated” various women and lived alone.  Eventually he married a third woman. 

          Joe’s basic problem was and is that he doesn’t care about anyone other than himself.  He’s a taker, a user.  He’s controlling, manipulative, blames others for his emotional upheavals, and bears grudges.  In short, he’s a mess and on the pathway to hell.  He once heard the message of Christmas and God’s forgiving love.  But his ego has crowded it out.  He doesn’t know what it means to take personal blame for his troubles.  I don’t ever recall him saying to anyone: “I’m sorry.”—Let alone meaning it.  In short, repentance isn’t in his vocabulary.


          The second person is: Barb.  I also grew up with her.  She was smart, attractive, grew up in a well-to-do family and went to church.  She was a cheerleader and very popular.  In 8th grade her father killed himself.  The business pressures of his life apparently were just too much.  Barb was never the same.  Did she blame herself for her father’s death?  Who knows.  What I do know is that she turned her back on God and never grasped the meaning of: forgiveness which is: to let go of past hurts and let God handle life’s problems. 

          Barb got married soon after high school.  It didn’t last.  Could it be that she was unable to let forgiveness and God’s love for her take root?  She flitted from husband to husband.  She kept her small town friends even after moving away to the city.  I don’t know whether she goes to church anywhere.  Forgive and forget are not a part of her vocabulary, either.  Now, over 50 years later, she’s still drifting through life, living in the past, and putting up a false front to the world.  It’s sad.


          Then there’s Lynn.  She also attended our church with her Mother, Father, and 2 sisters.  She was lovely, smart, and practiced her faith.  She still does today.  I know because I went to her mother’s wake and met her and her husband there.  Today she’s a successful realtor.  She has well-adjusted children and by now, probably grandchildren.  She still looks terrific.  But her beauty comes more from the inside.  She’s been through the tough times of life, too.  But she has clung to God, doesn’t dwell on her sins, embraces Christ’s forgiving love, learned from her mistakes, and unlike the other two, is blest because of it.  Likewise, she has grown as a person, emotionally and mentally, and you’d all enjoy her a lot!  She knows the meaning of repentance and practices it daily.


          Repent means to honestly see yourself as God sees you.  Repentance is honoring God’s commandments.  You cannot hide from God. You cannot shift blame and call it: repentance.  No, I’m guilty.  I brought it on myself.  My sins have hurt myself, others, and most of all: God.  Repentance isn’t merely sorry that you got caught, but sorry you did it in the first place.  Repentance begins with personal honesty and taking responsibility for your actions in life.  It is gut-wrenching, soul-searching, Christian confession—one on one with the Almighty.

          And once you do that, you also scream for help from God.  You don’t blame Him or get angry with Him.  No, you’re angry at yourself  for bringing on such heartache and sadness.  So, you “seek the Lord while He may be found and call upon Him while He is near.”  That means church.  Attending church, being active in church, praying daily, studying what God says in the Bible, and embracing with all your heart the Baby Jesus Who alone provides us with forgiveness, help, comfort, and direction.  So, forgiveness is the key to a life of blessed repentance.  Doing things God’s way never leads us astray.  That’s why Jesus says: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”  He is!  He is the gateway to heaven and we can possess a slice of heaven even while glued to this tainted planet through faith in Him.

          Joe, Barb, and Lynn all had the same chance for a blessed life.  I believe only one took it—by God’s grace alone—and her life has been worth living as a result.  So what about you?  Are you willing to submerge your ego, your temptations to sin, your past hurts that you brought upon yourself, and let Jesus handle them?  Are you willing, from the heart, to let go of your sins—even the ones you enjoy?  Is your eternal soul and a life of emotional honesty worth it?  Well, the Baby Jesus says: Yes.  And if you see that truth lying in the Christmas manger, then you are on the pathway of glory.   Yes, repent for the kingdom of heaven is near!   Amen


Pastor Thomas H. Fox, Dec. 22, 2019

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