First Sunday in Advent
December 3, 2017
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
On Wednesday morning, well before most people were awake, the co-hosts on NBC’s Today show had upsetting news to share with their audience. The man that they had worked with and had trusted had been fired. He had committed “inappropriate sexual behavior.” Once it had been mentioned the story grew. Others added to it. Other women who had been his victims also spoke up. Others, then, also filled in details of all that happened. It only got worse. Upsetting news.
The list of men who have committed awful acts against women grows and grows. In Hollywood, Washington D.C., the State Capitols, and in between, the accounts multiply. Powerful, popular and wealthy men have engaged in filthy, vile, sickening actions. Upsetting news!!
Look at all the folks that have been harmed by these perversions. First of all, the women who have been forced to be part of such fantasies. Such abuse from another can only harm them. At times developing trust of another person after such actions is difficult to regain. How awful that such deep injuries could be inflicted on another for such selfish gain!!
Many of these men have families. They are married. They have taken a vow to another that says, “I take you to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death parts us, and I pledge you my faithfulness.” Before this promise was spoken they would have used the phrase “forsaking all others” to cement their words of faithfulness. But I guess those words didn’t mean much.
Not only is it upsetting to a spouse – sometimes deadly to the marriage – it is greatly troubling to their children or grandchildren. They had grown to respect them and now this is the truth of who they really are. Every one of those folks whose sins have become public, have to face fans or co-workers or neighbors.
Upsetting news also comes for the perpetrator. Matt Lauer said that an inspection of his life was now before him. Now his full time job is trying to put the pieces of his life back together. Upsetting news is getting caught and having to face the world. Upsetting news is having to look at self and live with the disgust of the choices that were made.
Do you know what is upsetting? Sin is upsetting. Not just theirs, but ours. Up to this point all I have spoken about are the Lauer’s and Weinstein’s and Conyer’s and the thousand other bad guys who have upset their victim’s, their wife’s and children and families and those who trusted and respected them. We got to throw stones. But you know that is not the whole truth. Maybe we’re not too famous and if we did something like that we wouldn’t get much publicity – but we too know how upsetting sin is. We too know how many people are hurt when we make the wrong choices and when we seek only our pleasure.
Sin, our sin, is upsetting news. And God knows it. John the Baptist came to get people’s hearts ready for Jesus. His message? “So John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mark 1:4) His message? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 3:2) Repentance – the demand for a change of mind, a change of heart, a turning back to God, a re-direction in life – is what God demands of everyone. The first words of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel, the first red letters in my Bible? “The time has come. The kingdom of heaven is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
God wants to upset us. That is what repentance is. We don’t have to wait until January 1 to start something new – God wants that day to begin now, today. What needs to be upset in your life? What needs to be upset or get turned around, in your life, and in my life, before we hurt ourselves and hurt others?
Jesus has always been the bearer of upsetting news. He said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.” (John 8:34-35) Paul says of this, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God.” (Romans 6:12-13a)
But there is a much greater way that God upsets us!! On Tuesday evening the Board of Elders met. Scott Luethy, one of the ten most handsome of all the Elders, gave this devotion: I was parked in front of the mall wiping off my car. I had just come from the car wash and was waiting for my wife to get off of work. Coming my way from across the parking lot was what society would call a homeless person. From the looks of him, he had no car, no home, no clean clothes, and no money. There are times when you feel generous but there are other times that you just don’t want to be bothered. This was one of those “don’t want to be bothered times.” “I hope he doesn’t ask me for any money”, I thought. He didn’t. He came and sat on the curb in front of the bus stop, but he didn’t look like he could have enough money to even ride the bus.
After a few minutes he spoke. “That’s a very pretty car,” he said. He was ragged but he had an air of dignity around him. His scraggly white beard kept more than his face warm. I said, “thanks,” and continued wiping off my car. He sat there quietly as I worked. The expected plea for money never came. As the silence between us widened something inside said, “Ask him if he needs any help.” I asked. He answered in three simple but profound words that I shall never forget. We often look for wisdom in great men and women. We expect it from those of higher learning and accomplishments. I expected nothing of him but an outstretched grimy hand. But he spoke three words that hit me like a bolt of lightning. “Don’t we all?” I was feeling high and mighty, successful and important, above a bum in the street, until those three little words hit me like a twelve gauge shot gun. Don’t we all?
I needed help. Maybe not for bus fare or a place to sleep, but I too needed help. No matter how much you have, no matter how much you have accomplished, all of us still need help too.
The best upsetting news is this – He turns life around. Jesus turns life around. Isaiah 40 is quoted in Mark 1, it is a word about the upsetting news that John would bring. Listen to how good this news is. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord, make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
It is upsetting news when the mountains and hills are made low. When we are filled with pride and arrogance, when we look down on others and think much too much of ourselves, God will upset us. When we’re the first to cast a stone – watch out. When God upsets us it is good. A number of you offered some comments on my preaching in the survey that we had a few months ago. Most of the comments were helpful, though I wondered which one of you wrote about my preaching, “He is better than a sleeping pill.” Here is one that I thought was great. The question was: “Is Pastor effective in preaching the Law? In what ways can he improve in this area?” The answer given was: “I think there are some who feel: Law – bad and Gospel – good. It should be: Law – good and Gospel – good. This could be emphasized more.”
They’re right. It is good that God upsets us. He cares enough to speak to our sin and call us to repent and change. Law – good. But Gospel – better. “Every valley shall be raised up…the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” When we are in the pit, when we are overwhelmed by failure and sin, Jesus lifts us up. He turns everything around – upsets us, so to speak, in the best way. We look to Jesus, the only one who can wash away our sins.
God asks us, “Do you need any help?” And we answer with a deep yearning, “Yes, Don’t we all?”
Forgiveness is the best upsetting news. Jesus coming as a Savior, a sacrifice, a victor over all death is wonderful upsetting news. Our God who would lift us up from our guilt and failure and bring us the fullness of life is grace filled upsetting news. We get to stand right side up.
Today, this first day of Advent, thank God for His upsetting news in all its colors. Amen!!