During the four weeks of Advent we are getting ready for the coming of Jesus both at Christmas as a specific date and at the End Time which is an unknown date. We live in a culture of unhappy people focussed on shopping for material gifts to make them feel good. This distracts us from preparing to receive the spiritual gifts that Jesus gives us through the Holy Spirit. These gifts – Love, Joy and Peace cannot be bought in a store; they are free gifts given to anyone who goes through the work of preparing their heart to receive them:
· Love – being in emotional relationship, community, belonging
· Joy – having meaning in our life, happiness, thankfulness
· Peace – overcoming our fear of death, failure, guilt, shame
These are the real gifts that everyone wants but only people in serious Christian community have.
1. John is teaching why we need to prepare to receive these gifts
The setting is a time much like our own. The Hebrew people have become affluent, secure and separated from God by mechanical religious traditions maintained by a professional priestly class. There was not much love of God or fear of God – no emotional relationship. Many had put God in a box and focussed on placating God by keeping a detailed human interpretation of the rules. Sound familiar?
- Problem is that this had become spiritual rebellion, adultery
- Rule # 1 “You shall love the Lord your God ... with all your heart, soul and mind (Deuteronomy 5.6; 6.1-25)
- Rule # 2 “You shall have no other gods before me.” (5.7)
- Spiritual rebellion breaks the Covenant relationship and removes God’s spiritual protection and blessing
- Rebellion is called “sin” and pollutes our soul
- Focus on self (my way), materialism, power, control = the rebellion of ignoring God and worshiping another god
- John warns us that a soul polluted by sin cannot live in the presence of God who is holy – burn up in fire of holy love
- John also shares the Good News that Jesus will save people from their sins so they can become holy and His Holy Spirit can live in them, bringing gifts of Love, Joy and Peace
2. John teaches us how to prepare to receive these gifts
The Good News is that God always loves us and desires that we come home to Him in a love relationship. This is why “Jesus is the reason for the season.” The reason is a New Covenant – that God would forgive any sin if there was repentance in the heart and a turning to Jesus in faith to ask for specific forgiveness.
- Baptism of Repentance – die emotionally to a specific sin so we can be raised to a new spiritual life of love, joy and peace
- Spiritual baptism of repentance cleanses us so God can send the Holy Spirit to live in us
- Holy Spirit comes with the gifts of love joy and peace
- Love because we know for sure we are loved by God and belong to God – experience in prayer and church community
- Joy because our lives have real meaning, purpose and value
- Peace because we have overcome fear of failure, guilt, death
3. So why was John preaching in the wilderness?
- Father was a priest in Temple – he was raised to be a priest
- Why was he living rough in a barren wilderness far from Jerusalem?
- How does he refer to his brother priests – snakes!
- John needed to get away from the spiritual adultery and pollution of Jerusalem so he could:
- Be Cleansed by God.
- Receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit
- Come into a relationship of personal love with God
This is what we all need to do this Advent as we prepare to receive more of the spiritual gifts of love, joy and peace!