Bear Fruit of Repentance.December 8, 2021 2023-01-07 12:55
Bear Fruit of Repentance.
Bear Fruit of Repentance.
“Bear Fruit of Repentance.”
Last Sunday was 2nd in Advent. Advent is a season of hope and expectation, as we look forward to our Lord’s coming, both at Christmas and on the Last Day. Besides hope and expectation, Advent is also a season of repentance. It is a guilt-ridden season. And this mood of repentance is also tied to our Lord’s coming. For it is by truthful repentance that we prepare the way of the Lord.
Repentance is the proper preparation in keeping with the hope of our Lord’s coming or return. And not just a vague, unclear feeling of repentance. But more than that, a repentance that takes particular shape in the way we live. Thus our theme is, in the words of John the Baptist: “Bear Fruits in Keeping with Repentance.”
Yes, John shows up here, every year, on the Second Sunday in Advent, whether we’re reading Matthew, Mark, or Luke. This year the Gospel according to St. Luke is where we find John doing his thing.
Luke records, “the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” That was John’s message. What he preached is connected to the baptizing. In the wilderness, out by the Jordan, John was calling people to repent. And in so doing, John was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’”
Beloved, John was the forerunner of our Lord Jesus Christ. John’s ministry, his assignment in life, was to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming. And this ministry took the form of preaching and doing a baptism of repentance. That is what is fitting when the Lord is coming to save sinners like us from the wrath and judgment of God.
Yes, repent! We recognize and confess our sins and our sinfulness. We accept that we need a righteousness greater than our own, a righteousness that we lack and must receive from outside of ourselves, from the Lord Himself, in order to stand before God on the Day of Judgment. That day is coming. It will be a day of wrath. “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” John is being serious!
Repentance is how the way of the Lord is to be prepared. John preaches it. Baptism puts us into it. And Isaiah tells us what this repentance will mean: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways.”
Friends, repentance involves things like this: “The crooked shall become straight.” There is too much of crookedness in this world. This means straightening out the crooked places in our lives.
Are there ways in which we have been deviating from the straight road? Are there crooked paths that need to be made straight? That’s where repentance will happen. “And the rough places shall become level ways.” What are those bumps and rough places in our lives that need to be put right or leveled?
Friends, how about this? “Every mountain and hill shall be made low.” Our high vain and conceited ways need to be cut down to size. Humbling oneself is part of repentance. And this: “Every valley shall be filled.”
Where are we lacking the love and good works that are expected? Those places need to be filled in.
We are taught that all of these things are involved in repentance, the way of life into which we were baptized. And you have been, and you are, baptized. This affects and transforms your life, every day.
We have learnt it in the Catechism: “What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
Baptism puts us into a whole life of repentance, an every-day dying and rising with Christ. Every day we put that old sinful self to death. Every day we rise to newness of life as the new persons we are in Christ.
Again, not just in some vague feeling. But in concrete action. That’s why John says, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance”.
True repentance will show up in how we live, both in the things we stop doing, and in the things we take up doing. Mountains need to be brought low. Valleys need to be filled in.
Remember, the tax collectors ask John, “Teacher, what shall we do?” He replied, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” I don’t know if E-levy was in mind. Those were some specific tax-collector crooked ways that needed to be straightened out. Some soldiers ask John “And we, what shall we do?” And he said, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”
But repentance isn’t just the bad thing you get rid of. It’s also the good things you take up. For the crowds ask John, “What then shall we do?” And he answers them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” Love, mercy, good works–these are how those valleys are to be filled in.
The point is, don’t let your repentance remain just at the level of the vague and the general. The Lord will work repentance in your life also in the particular and the specific, both in terms of the sins you struggle against and in terms of the good works you take up. That is what John is preaching when he says, “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”
Beloved, what will that look like in your life today and this month? How are you going to bear those fruits? Are you just going to look for your willpower and resolve to do better? “This time I have to do away with my sins! Or to say, “now I’m going to become a merciful and loving person!” Well, willpower alone is not the answer. You need help. You need the help of the Holy Spirit to live this life of repentance, day by day.
And thank God, you were given the gift of the Holy Spirit in your baptism. The Spirit will help you along the way. The Spirit will guide you and strengthen you and help you to live as the new person you are in Christ.
Another name of the Holy Spirit is the Helper, and indeed He will help you to live the life of repentance and to bear those fruits, which, after all, coincide with the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23).
In order to bear these good fruits? You stay connected to Christ. For apart from Him, you can do nothing. But abiding in Christ, you will bear good fruit, and bear it in abundance. For Christ is the source of your new life. And you stay connected to Christ by abiding in His word. Word and Sacrament; these are the means that God has established to keep us Christians alive and flourishing and bearing fruit. There is no other way to be a fruit-bearing Christian without Christ connected to you. And besides that, even as a baptized, Spirit-helped, abiding-in-Christ, fruit-bearing Christian, you’re still going to mess up and stumble and fall in your walk. You will always be discovering more rough places in need of smoothing out, more sins in need of forgiveness. And so notice that the baptism of repentance is tied to, and leads to, the forgiveness of sins.
John came, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The Christian life is a constant pattern of repentance and forgiveness, repentance and forgiveness, all throughout our journey in this life.
That’s why Christ came. To win that forgiveness for us! Jesus came, the one mightier than John. The repentance that John preached to prepare the way of His coming. And then when the Lord does come, as Isaiah says, “All flesh shall see the salvation of God,” in the flesh of the man Jesus Christ. He is the Savior who delivers the salvation. Christ Jesus took our sins in His body on the tree, and suffered and died for those sins of yours. And by so doing, He saves you from the wrath your sins deserve. In place of wrath, now you will receive salvation. In place of death, now you receive life. In place of judgment, now you have Jesus to be your righteousness on the Last Day.
John the Baptist has been telling us: “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.” And real repentance will always lead you to the forgiveness of sins, which is yours as a free gift in Christ. He is our salvation, and He is the source of our life. It is the new life that is yours in Christ that will keep you bearing good fruit, the fruits of repentance.