Second Sunday in Advent December 4-5, 2021
“Finally” Luke 3:1-20
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
The Jewish people in both the Old Testament and the New Testament had a reputation. They were stubborn, at times disobedient, whiny, demanding, and a pain to be around.
But there was something that they were that we don’t give them credit for. They were patient with God. Or, at least they had to be. Do you know how many years God was silent to His people? Do you know how long it was between a word that came from God in the Old Testament and when He spoke again in the New Testament? 400 years!! 400 years ago the Mayflower found its way to New England. I think a bunch of stuff has happened in this country since those days. 400 years.
And though much had happened within the borders of Palestine there was a phrase that wasn’t spoken for 400 years, that is, until we read of it in Luke 3. That phrase is, “The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the desert.” (Luke 3:2b) Finally!! After all of the trials for the Jewish people, after the brutal and prolonged effort to exterminate them, after much longing and praying, the word was spoken, “The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the desert.” Finally, God opened His mouth. After 400 years of silence. Finally, God acted and spoke.
Have you ever wondered why John would make such a splash with the people? We read that large crowds came out to see him. Maybe he was a spectacle. He dressed oddly – he wore camel’s hair – that would look weird. He ate bugs. They usually have an aftertaste. But that Jewish crowd was interested in him. In fact, they had been interested in him for quite a few years – just about 30. They knew about his miraculous birth. Zechariah and Elizabeth, his parents, didn’t have any children, couldn’t have any children, and were too old to have children. But they ended up having a camel dressing, bug eating, son. And the people got to hear about an angel coming to Zechariah when he was serving as priest in the Temple. Parents love to brag about their kids and I bet these two were no different. The angel had told Zechariah about the uniqueness of their boy, “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:15-17)
Finally, God was silent no more. 400 years and no one came to speak a new word from heaven to them. But that now changed. John, the last Old Testament prophet, and the first of the New Testament prophets, made sure that everyone knew that God has broken His silence. But this is how he addressed his congregation, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’. For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:7-9)
They wanted God to speak but I’m not sure that they wanted to hear that. God finally spoke and the first words out of His mouth were, “Change!” “Get right with God!” “Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk!” “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
Sometimes it isn’t just that God finally speaks, it is that we finally hear!! In the text some tax collectors finally heard God’s words. “What then shall we do?” “Don’t collect more than you are required to.” And some soldiers asked John the same thing. “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely – be content with your pay.” (See Luke 3:10-14) No cheating. No bullying. Repentance can be seen.
Have you found that at times the apology, “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it? The person you apologize to says, “I’ve heard that before.”, “I think you said those same words, with those same crocodile tears, last week.” The people that we sin against, and hurt, want some finality to our words. They want to see a change in what we do and how we live. And so does God. “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.”
It was a great and moving day when John came. And his coming raised a question – Was he God’s final word – that is, was John the Baptist also the Messiah? “The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Christ.” (Luke 3:15) Was he God’s final answer? Was John the answer to their bold prayer – “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down”? (Isaiah 64:1)
No. John knew that he was not God’s final answer. “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16) Zechariah would say of his son, born by God’s great miracle, “And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins.” (Luke 1:76-77) When those who wrote the biographies of Jesus (we call those books the Gospels) they described John in this way, “This is the one who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.” (Matthew 3:3)
God spoke when He sent John. Don’t underestimate what he was called to do. 400 years of silence was broken in his birth. But the final word, the greatest word, was Jesus, not John. About the final, culminating word that God spoke in the life of Jesus the writer to Hebrews begins, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed as heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3a)
John was not just a speaker of law, of wrath, of calling anyone who came near him a brood of vipers. He was also a preacher of grace and of God’s final word spoken in Jesus. In our reading from Luke 3 it says of John, “And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them.” (Verse 18) It was John, when he saw Jesus coming to him, who said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) It was John, in comparing who he was to Jesus said, “He must become greater, I must become less.” (John 3:30)
There is something great about reaching a conclusion about self and God and faith and life. I hope that we can say, “Finally, I listened to God.” “Finally, I did that God wanted me to do.” “Finally, I trusted in Jesus completely.” “Finally, I am at peace.” “Finally, God is transforming my character.” Finally.
At this church we have had four of our men die in the last 30 days. Sadly, there is a finality when they took their last breath here. We aren’t able to talk to them on earth. But, they will hear, a final word from God and it is a gracious one. That word, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness.” (Matthew 25:21)
Finally, God spoke through John. Finally, God sent His Son, Jesus. Finally, the world is saved. Finally, we believe and live. And someday we will finally see Him. Amen!!