"Repent! for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" That is the call of John the Baptist. This last Sunday we sang the Advent hymn "On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry." He called out to the people of his day - calling them to prepare their hearts and their lives for the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. He didn't mince words. He wasn't politically correct. He didn't care if a person was "influential" or "lowly." The message was the same for all - repent, prepare, get ready.
That message is for us today as well. We are called to repent of our sins, to prepare our hearts and lives, and to get ready for the kingdom of heaven, for it is near at hand, closer today than ever. That message is for you, whoever you might think that you are - powerful, insignificant, rich, poor, or whatever. John calls to you to turn from your sin.
Do you have any sin to confess? Do you have any sin from which you must turn? Take a look at your life, a look at your words, a look at your thoughts and then answer that question. If you say, "No," beware! You have just told the Baptist, nay, not just the Baptist, you have just told Christ Himself that you have sin for which you must repent. And while Christ tells you that you are a sinful creature, sinful in thought, word and deed, you are telling Him you are not! The One who looks into your heart, has said, "You are a sinner. You sin daily in a variety of ways. I have come to save you from you from your sin," and you are telling Him that He doesn't know what He is talking about. Really? Is not pride a sin? Is not self-righteousness a sin (Jesus denounced the Pharisees for just that sin!).
Each of us, myself included, is a sinner, a person who is called by the Law of God to repent. Falling on these poor, aching knees, all I can do is cry out to the Savior, "Jesus Christ, be merciful to me, a sinner." And that good news is that He is! He is merciful to me. The very reason that we celebrate this Advent and Christmas season is that the Son of God is merciful to us. He is full of pity. He came into this world, born of a woman, born under the Law, to save those under the Law, to save me, to save you! He doesn't come to give us a nice holiday to celebrate. He comes because He is merciful. He came to be the Savior of all mankind. He came for me and for you.
Having repented of that sin, we now turn to that life of faith. John calls us to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We are called to live today in faith, in Christ, in the wonder of all that He has done for us. that means we turn from our sinful actions and begin to live as a child of God. Are you having hateful thoughts about another person? Turn from them. Are you thinking lustful thoughts about another person? Put those thoughts from your mind. Are you doing illegal drugs? Stop. Are you worrying about what will happen tomorrow, worrying so much it has become your sin? Then give it over to God. You can't change the situation by your worry. God can! Are you drinking too much? Are you taking from work? Are you playing games on your computer instead of doing your work? Are you talking poorly about someone? Are you sharing the "truth" about someone when you should hold your tongue? Turn from that sin and do as the Lord calls you to do. That is the message that John gives to the people and to us.
Can't do any of those things? Of course you can't. Your sinful nature makes it hard, if not impossible. That is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Through those blessed Means of Grace (Word and Sacraments), the Holy Spirit empowers you to live your life as a child of God. He does not expect you to do it on your own. If fact, He knows you cannot do it on your own. So He comes to you, He abides with you, He strengthens you, He give you the power to live as a child of God. He does that through the Word (make it a daily part of your life), through your Baptism (daily recalling and walking in the waters of your Baptism) and through the Lord's Supper (receive it often for the forgiveness of sins and the strength for daily life).
John calls. Are you listening?