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081207 - Mark 1.1-8

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2nd Sunday in Advent                         Sermon Text: Mark 1:1-8

Let us pray: let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

            Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight. The Lord is coming, He is on the way.
            Yet is this good news? The Lord is holy and righteous; a consuming fire that destroys sin and unrepentant sinners. You remember that when Moses came down from Mt. Sinai and God’s presence, his face glowed for weeks. Do you think that these people listening to John the Baptist on the banks of the Jordan really want to risk seeing the Lord when He comes? They are a sinful bunch, which is why they have come to John in the first place. These people are far from holy, and rightly so, fearful of God’s wrath, for it is a wrath they know they deserve. Do you think these people really want the Lord to come? Would you, knowing all of your trespasses against God, aware of the fact that you have not kept God’s Law; would you want to stand in the presence of such a holy and righteous Lord, a consuming fire that destroys sin and unrepentant sinners?

            It was Isaiah who uttered this prophecy and who also declared by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the Lord comes to save. Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins… Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken (Isaiah 40:1-2, 4-5). The Lord comes to comfort His people and pardon their iniquity. He is not coming with wrath, but with grace. He is not going to give them what they or you or I deserve for our sins. The Lord is coming to have mercy.

            John the Baptist, in our Gospel account, is diligently at his task, sent to prepare the way. If people are going to rejoice in their Savior, they must first understand how much they need Him. We find John coming from the wilderness, preaching of a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. His task is to prepare the way, and so he must proclaim how they deserve God’s wrath and punishment for their sins. Through this, John prepares the way for Him who will pardon sin. He prepares the way for those who receive what they don’t deserve. He prepares the way for the One who will bring mercy – Christ Jesus.
            In the Gospel account, there will be some who will hear and repent; others will close their ears and puff out their chests. Yet either the way, the Lord is coming – about to arrive on the scene. He will be merciful to those who repent, to those who have heard the message of God’s Law and see their sin. He will have mercy, also, on those who reject the message and do not repent. But to reject the truth of their sin is to reject the Lord’s mercy.

            The Lord is coming, nearly there. The Word spreads, and all of Judea goes out to John, waiting for the arrival of a merciful Lord.

            The Lord comes, and true to His Word, He lives a life of mercy. Mercifully, He was born to Mary and masked His glory in human flesh. Mercifully, He heals the sick and demon-possessed. So many are in such great distress; they have been prepared for His appearance, for the Word has spread that the merciful Lord is here, that His is able to make the blind see and the lame walk. They have waited for the Lord’s coming; and when He appears, they waste no time.

            You remember the account of the two blind men who cry out: “Have mercy” (Matt. 9:27). They have done nothing for the Lord so that He owes them, but He heals them all the same. Why? Because He has come to have mercy, not to give them what they deserve. Instead of judgment, He gives them sight.

            Or do you recall the Canaanite woman who pleads with the Lord: “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon” (Matt. 15:22). This pagan woman has no leverage to make Jesus do what she wants, no influence to make Him even listen. He does not treat her based upon who she is, but who He is; and He is the Lord who comes to have mercy. Her daughter is delivered that day.

            Perhaps you recollect those ten lepers who, with no hope left, can only wait to die along the way to Jerusalem. The disease in their bodies has informed them of their need for miraculous healing, and the Word regarding Jesus’ miracles has spread even to them. When they see Him, they cry out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13). He, in His mercy, cleanses them. Is their love and devotion to God enough to save them? Hardly. Nine out of ten run away without even a word of thanks. The Lord leaves them healed anyway, because the Lord comes to have mercy.

            This is how the ministry of Jesus goes, all the way to the cross. Wherever the Lord comes, people who have been prepared by hearing of Him gather in His way. And because He is there, present with them, they cry out to Him for mercy. They receive mercy in the form of physical healings and exorcisms, it is true. Yet there is more mercy; on more than one occasion, the Lord says to those healed, “Your faith has saved you.” Ultimately, the Lord comes to be merciful by forgiving sins – by giving eternal life.

            And so, mercifully, He goes to the cross. He must be crucified in order to be merciful. Remember, this is the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. He is equal with God the Father – holy and righteous, a consuming fire that destroys sin. The Lord cannot just excuse sin; He cannot just pretend it does not exist, for it is an offense to His very nature. The sinner deserves God’s wrath and judgment for sin, He can’t just make God’s judgment go away; so He becomes the bearer of sin – shifting God’s wrath away from us and onto Himself. He becomes sin for them, for you and me. He puts Himself upon the cross.

            The Lord comes to have mercy; behold the cross. How great His mercy is. You deserve God’s wrath for your sin. In His mercy, The Lord does not give you the wrath that you deserve; rather, He takes the wrath upon Himself and suffers the judgment of a sinner – death. Behold the cross, for their hangs your Savior, forsaken by His father, stricken, smitten, and afflicted for you. His suffering there was sufficient for your redemption. He has won double the pardon for all of your sins.

            The merciful Lord comes. He has come for you – by His incarnation, ministry and death. The Lord comes for you, here and now. Prepare the way.

            You have heard over and over that He is really present with us in His Word and Sacrament. Here, the Lord comes, fully God and fully man. He is just as present with us as He was when He stood with the ten lepers or debated the Canaanite woman or made the blind men see. He is here, and He is here to have mercy. So with the words of lepers, blind men and Canaanite women, we sing: “Lord, have mercy upon us; Christ, have mercy upon us; Lord, have mercy upon us.” They cried out when they were in His presence, and so do we. The Lord is here, fully present even though unseen. He comes to have mercy. By His Word, He announces to you your sinfulness and your need for salvation, thus He prepares your hearts. Then by the same Word, He says to you, “Your iniquity is pardoned, and you have received double the grace for all of your sins.” The Lord has had mercy upon you; for the forgiveness that He won on the cross is placed in your ears by His Gospel, and is placed in your mouth as the present, merciful Lord says to you: “Take and eat, this is My body…take and drink, this is My blood…for the forgiveness of sins.”

            The Lord comes, and the Lord calls: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt.11:28). Cast your cares upon Him, trusting in His merciful words “Your iniquity is pardoned; you are forgiven of all of your sins.” In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

And now the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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