Throughout this life we are always on trial. Always judging and being judged, by ourselves and others. Our sense of fairness is satisfied when evildoers get what we judge is coming to them. They victimize the weak and violate the vulnerable to fulfill their twisted desires. For far too long they felt safe. Justice would never catch up with them. Or so they thought until condemnation fell upon them.
However, even when that happens to one enemy of humanity, there are so many more out there hurting and abusing children and adults. The cops and criminal courts do what they can, but they cannot stop it all. So if only God would come down. If only He would visit, then He would see how horrid they are – and how great we are. And He would be happy with us and bless us, His people.
But when God looked down at His people in Noah’s day, He saw all sorts of violence and perversion and lack of faith. Years later, when God visited Abraham and promised Sarah would have a son, she laughed in His face. Centuries later, when God visited Moses and the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai, He found them worshiping the golden calf. And when God was almost ready to make His greatest visitation of all, becoming flesh like us, telling Zechariah he and Elizabeth would have a son who would prepare the way of the Lord – what did He find? He found one of His own priests who refused to believe an old man and woman could become parents, despite knowing the story of Abraham. He found people with lives more like crooked highways than the straight and narrow path that leads to Heaven. Nevertheless they thought their place in Paradise was secure simply because they were born in the right religious family. He found hearts that were cold and dead to faith, and yet they were lifted up in pride. He found eyes blind to the fact that they were sitting in darkness, the very shadow of death.
Open your own eyes and repent. God sent John to preach to a people who are not nearly as different from us as they ought to be. We go to bed wanting to think we are good. Though not innocent, we tell stories that we think that will somehow explain we have a good reason for how we have behaved. I’m good, except those few times when I’m not.
Will the Lord’s visitation to you reveal that you are better than they are? Better than the people of Noah’s times? Or have you never doubted and ignored God’s Word? Have you never laughed in God’s face? Have you never victimized God’s children to fulfill your twisted pride or anger, lust or envy? Have you thought you will get away with it all, that justice will never catch up with you? The Truth hurts.
St. Paul warns us never to think more highly of yourself than you “ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3). For the judgment of God is a sobering thing. Not the judgments we think He should pronounce, but what He actually says. There is no one righteous. No, not even one. Not even you. All of us need to hear John’s sermon this day, “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Return to God from your deadly ways.
And what a blessed God we have. Praise the Lord, for He has not only visited His people, He has also redeemed them. Without redemption, God coming to you gets deadly. If God visits the world with our iniquity, our guilt, then all is lost. You cannot live without God – that is Hell. But you also cannot live with the Holy Lord Most High in your sin either – that would result in your destruction.
However, when the Lord visits His people in Jesus Christ, there is redemption. Here God comes, with mercy and Divine compassion, using preachers like John the Baptist “to give knowledge of salvation to His people in the forgiveness of our sins.” And so John does not only preach “Repent.” He also points to Jesus, telling God’s people, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
In the blood of Jesus, the world is redeemed. The great visitation of God against sin falls upon Jesus, and He bears the terrible weight of all your guilt and mine. Like a sponge, Christ soaks up all our evil at His baptism in the Jordan, He carries it with Him to the Cross, takes it down with Him into His grave. And then He leaves your pride, your anger, your bitterness, and every other sin that victimizes you and other children of God. All of it is left there when He rises from the dead. By this forgiveness, you are saved.
Zechariah says that God's people will serve Him without fear - but how is that possible, when there are so many worries about doing the wrong thing when working for God, so many opportunities for sin? And then what condition will I be in when God visits? Will He find you and judge you to be outside His kingdom? Well, listen again to how Zechariah ends his praise of God at the birth of John: It is all “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. “ This is the way it is with God, in the Old Testament, and today, and even around the time of the birth of His Son Jesus Christ. He finds us sitting in sin’s deadly darkness, weighed down by our guilt, blinded by ignorance of His ways, overcome by Satan’s lies. The Savior, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life comes to people who can never make themselves ready for Him. He brings to us the Light as Christ teaches us to know His gift of forgiveness. And with that we live in peace with God.
Throughout this life we are always on trial. Always judging and being judged, by ourselves and others. But in the end, God is our Judge. And Christ, who has taken the blame for your guilt, is our only hope. Amen.