Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Advent Evening Prayer in the Week of Populus Zion (Advent 2)


Acts 2:36-39; Isaiah 1:10-20


In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“Brothers, what shall we do?” That was the question of some who thought they had it all figured out, and then it all came crashing down. Kind of like most of us right now, still reeling from the pandemic, and from the election, and from the murder hornets, and from, well, life in general. We bemused ourselves, thinking we were in control, and then WHAM, KAFLOOEY, the bottom fell out. The men who said those words in our reading from Acts had just heard St. Peter’s Pentecost sermon in which he smacked them with the Law exposing how they rejected and crucified the Lord’s Christ, their Redeemer. The Holy Spirit worked through that preaching of the Law to break their hardened hearts and to crush their proud spirits so that WHAM, KAFLOOEY, the bottom fell out of their reasoned plans and their self-assurance and they were left reeling in hopelessness and despair saying, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins,” answered Peter. To repent means to change your mind or to think differently; it means to confess that you are wrong and see things in a new light. Let’s face it, most often we don’t like to admit that we’re wrong. Maybe with other people we can spin things in such a way that we don’t come off looking so bad, getting someone else to share the blame, etc. However, before the light of God’s holy Word and Law, there’s no dodging, shifting the blame, or compromise. Those who heard Peter’s fiery sermon were “cut to the heart,” “for the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” No one has an encounter with the Word of God and walks away unscathed. And that’s a good thing when the result is repentance.

You see, there’s a good kind of cutting, and there’s a bad kind of cutting. Cutting off a gangrenous limb might well save the body, but a sword through the heart will most certainly end your life. The Law is preached to you that you might see your sin and turn from it, that you might receive the Gospel as the free gift of God’s grace that it is: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Holy Baptism is God’s gift to you, the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Lord has taken the death of Christ His Son, a death you delivered Him over to, a death your sins merited and deserved, and He has worked Christ’s death for good, for your good, for the good of you and your children. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.” Do you hear the Gospel in this statement? It’s a promise. It’s for everyone. Just as all had a hand in betraying the Christ and delivering Him over to death, so was Jesus’ death for all who will believe and trust in Him.

Jesus is how God forgives and saves you, and Baptism delivers to you all of Jesus’ saving work as we confess in the Small Catechism: “It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare” – “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Who is this promise for? It is for you, your children, for those who are far off, and for everyone whom the Lord our God calls to Himself.

We are not saved by our good works. We are not saved by our sacrifices and prayers. We are not even saved by our faith alone, but we are saved by Jesus in whom we believe and trust. Our faith in Jesus is sealed in Holy Baptism as we receive His promised Holy Spirit marking us, naming us, and claiming us as His own. Though your sins were like scarlet, they have become white as snow; though they were red like crimson, they have become like wool. This is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.

“Brothers, what shall we do?” “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the Name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” This was the content of St. Peter’s and the Apostle’s preaching. This was the content of Jesus’ preaching. And this was the content of John the Baptist’s preaching as well. Whereas John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and it gave precisely that, the baptism Jesus commanded His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations with gave the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. That is the baptism you and I have been baptized with. That is the baptism John’s baptism pointed to, that Peter proclaimed, and that makes and keeps you a Christian still. Still the cry goes out “Repent,” think differently, turn around, return to your baptism in repentance and wash your robes and make them clean once again in the blood of the Lamb.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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