Advent 1 (C)
November 29, 2015
“Repentance and Forgiveness”
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Introit for today, Psalm 25.
There’s an old axiom, that I’m sure many of you are familiar with, which says there’s nothing certain except death and taxes. I suppose it feels like this most of the time, but the truth is that this is only half right. Everyone will pay taxes, that’s a fact of life, the government wants their portion, but not everyone will die. It’s true. When Jesus returns, there will be a lot of people who will still be alive. We don’t think about it much, but Jesus’ return is imminent. It could happen before I finish this sermon. It could happen at any time, and we hope it does. The idea of the Apocalypse, the end of the world, can be a scary thing. There are a lot of unknowns. What we do know however is that even though we are sinners who deserve God’s wrath, we don’t need to be afraid. We’re not afraid because the forgiveness of sins is ours now, even as we await for Jesus to return and the end of the world.
With the celebration of Thanksgiving and the chaos of Black Friday, most of America has plunged headlong into the Christmas season. Some people, who will remain nameless, have been listening to Christmas music since October, but now is when the Christmas season really begins. People are shopping, gathering together for work Christmas parties, writing their Christmas cards, putting up their decorations, and generally enjoying what has become known as Christmastime. It’s a time of good cheer and all that stuff right? Well, it is, but it isn’t. We’re technically not in the Christmas season yet, we’re in the season of Advent.
Advent is one of those church seasons that most people don’t pay any attention to because it doesn’t fit with Christmas. Advent is a time of joy, in the sense that we’re looking forward to celebrating with family, but Advent is also, and primarily, a time of repentance. Right now the world is talking about material things: What do you want for Christmas? The Church though calls us back to God as it calls us to repentance. Advent is about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. It’s about celebrating His birth and how we prepare for His coming in glory on the Last Day.
As we talk about Advent and repentance it’s important that we distinguish between repentance and remorse. Remorse is a feeling of regret. It merely wishes that things were different, but it doesn’t really act to change anything. So for example, a murderer might be remorseful he got caught or that he’ll spend the next fifty years in prison, but he’s not sorry for his crime. It was something that he did, and if he was in a similar situation, he would do it again. Repentance on the other hand is different. Repentance is admitting what you’ve done is wrong, hating it, and turning away from it and back to God. When confronted by his sins of murder and adultery, King David was not just remorseful, he was torn apart by his sin. When he said, “I have sinned against the Lord” he was announcing who was most grieved by his actions, God.
So as we progress through Advent, and through the rest of our lives for that matter, we repent of our sins, not merely feel bad about them. The problem with our sins is that they’re not just mistakes. They may be errors in judgment, but ultimately they’re sins against God and can alienate us from Him. We all sin, that’s a truth that we hear from God Himself. He says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”, and “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin?’” To deny our sin or to minimize what we’ve done by saying at least we’re not like “them” is to call God a liar. Our sins make us enemies of God, and He has every right to condemn us for our sins, whether we think they’re serious or not.
The other side of this though is to dwell on our sins. Many people put themselves through the torture of continually think about how they’ve failed God, their family, or others. You know how you can walk through a spider web and it just wraps around you and won’t let go? You keep wiping your face because you feel that it’s all over you, it seems to just stick with you. So also the sins we dwell on stick to us. They’re the web of shame that makes us squirm whenever something dredges them up. Shame is so hard to shake. It’s there when you wake up, it’s there when you go to sleep. Sometimes, the shame is there in your dreams. You hear you’re forgiven, I tell you that every week, but you don’t believe it, at least not entirely. It’s almost like that as long as you can remember your sins, they’re not forgiven. And let’s face it, some of our sins are hard to forget. They wrap around you like the web you walk into in your dark basement.
Depending on where you fall on the spectrum between thinking “I’m not much of a sinner” and “I’m the worst sinner ever,” the answer is the same – repentance. Not just feeling bad, but truly understanding that all your sin is evil, that it’s hurting your relationship with God and those around you. There is no escape from the reality of sin.
There is no escape from the reality of sin, but there is escape from the shame and punishment for our sins. In this great Psalm, David looks at God, not as a God who winks at sin, nor as a God who casts the evil eye at sinners, but as faithful God of mercy. He sees God in this way because he looks at God as a man who repents of his sin and who knows where his forgiveness comes from.
In our Psalm David says, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions”. David can pray this fully trusting that God will answer. As he says, “Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.” God has made promises to you! Promises to forgive and to forget. Promises to never bring up the past. Promises to forgive all your sins, even the sins that you can’t forget no matter how hard you try. As David says, “Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame”. God’s not the one shaming you for your sins, that’s you. God has taken away that shame.
He has taken away your shame because Jesus was shamed for you. Remember this verse from Isaiah, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus was publically shamed as He hung on that cross enduring the mocking even as he endured God’s wrath. He was shamed so that you would not be. Now you can confidently proclaim that God has forgiven you and cleansed you of your shame.
Since Advent is the time that we anticipate Jesus’ return, we can hear His Word, sing the hymns, and confess our sins knowing that no matter when He returns we will be ready. We’re ready because Christ has made us ready. We are saddened by our sins, yes, so we repent of them, then we rejoice because Christ suffered the punishment we deserved. Our Lord is the God of mercy who doesn’t see our sins, because Christ’s cross is blocking His view. We say God knows everything, but because He loves us, and because of Jesus’ death, He has holy amnesia. He’s forgotten all that we have done. He says in Jeremiah, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). He has rescued us from our shame and our ambivalence over our sin. Forgiveness of sins is ours now, and soon it will be complete. On that day nothing of sin or shame will remain for we will be like Christ. On the day that He returns we can look up and know that our salvation has come in the name of the Lord. Our salvation is the Lord.
Until that day, God is here in this house to give you what you need. Do you repent of your sins and do you desire forgiveness in His name? It’s here! It’s here in the Absolution I proclaim to you at the beginning of the service. It’s here in this sermon where I tell you again that God can’t remember your sins. It’s in the Lord’s Supper where Jesus comes to you in His body and blood to meet you in your shame, loneliness, and the affliction of your sins. He is here for you, right now! He is setting the stage and giving you a glimpse of the eternity that awaits each and every one of you.
There’s a Hindu philosophy called Vedanta which, in part, says there is no such thing as sin, only error. It goes on to declare that the greatest error is to say that you are weak and a sinner. We know that’s completely wrong. Sin is more than an error or a mistake, it’s an offense against God, which is why we repent of our sins every day. And it’s good to admit that we’re poor, miserable sinners, for then we know that we need God, and that He has come to us. He came to us as a baby who grew up to die for us, and will one day return and show Himself to be the victorious judge. On that day you will be eternally free of sin, shame, and death. So look up, wait for Him with joyful expectation and not fear. For God is not a God of wrath, but a loving God who has nothing but mercy for you.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen