December 12, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of Your only-begotten Son, that by His coming we may be enabled to serve You with pure minds.”
Pure hearts and minds. That’s what the Lord demands. Pure hearts and minds. What does that involve? Pure love. Pure devotion. Pure emotions. Pure desires. Pure thoughts. Pure will. That is what is required to meet the Lord’s demand. The lack of these or the presence of the opposite means falling short of what the Lord expects.
The problem of impure hearts and minds was found among the people of Israel, those whom the Lord called to be His own. He speaks against their worship, that which was supposed to flow from their hearts and minds. The words of the psalm record what the Lord says: “Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before Me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds.” A problem with their worship is noted. Not that the people weren’t offering the sacrifices, but that there was a lack of faith and devotion found in them. Countless bulls, goats, and birds were placed on altars. But the people’s hearts and minds were not focused on the Lord and the Covenant that He had made with them.
So the Lord exhorts the people: “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.” And so that this can happen as He wills, the Lord also promises an action that will take place among His people: “Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
The Lord is going to come to His people. He will send a messenger to prepare them. And there is going to be a change of hearts and minds: “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.” A refining of the priests will take place, so that the people can have the proper worship. This day of purification will come. And the messenger sent will be a part of that: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.”
So the messenger came. John the Baptizer brought the purification of hearts and minds that was needed. The purification came through the call to repentance, the call to forsake ways that are empty and vain, the call to return to the Lord’s covenant. Love Him with all your heart, soul, and mind. Be baptized, marking the confession and forgiveness that has taken place. Make His precepts and statutes your discipline, your way of life. That was John’s message. And Jesus testifies about Him: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John, and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.”
The purifying that John’s call to repentance brings is meant for you. His call to repentance is to strike your hearts and minds. You are to be refined by it. For you are the sons of Levi, the royal priesthood of the Lord. That is the identity given to you by the Messiah who has come and made atonement for you. It is your identity as the Lord has chosen you to be His people and gathered you into His kingdom. Essential to that identity is the devotion of your hearts and minds to the Lord and His ways. That is what allows you to offer your thoughts, words, and deeds as living sacrifices to Him. These are the sacrifice of thanksgiving that you offer to the Lord and the vows that you perform because He has made you His people.
This Advent Season is penitential. John’s message—the proclamation of that promised Elijah to come—is for your ears to hear. It is meant to bring you back to the safety and salvation that the Lord provides. The Lord’s messenger turns your hearts, so that the Lord will not come and speak a decree of utter destruction against you. The hearts that are turned to the Lord’s righteousness are led to call on Him in the day of trouble. The minds that are turned to knowledge of the Lord’s ways will glorify Him for the deliverance He has brought.
So John points you to the Lord and His Covenant. He proclaims the One who has a pure heart and mind, the One who desires to fulfill the Father’s will and accomplishes it. He directs you to the Messiah greater than He who fulfills the divine promises for you and your salvation. He shows you the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, even your guilt and transgressions. And in this way, the Lord’s promised messenger prepares you for the great and awesome day of the Lord. You are made ready for when the Lord does as is foretold: “The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting…. Our God comes; He does not keep silence; before Him is a devouring fire, around Him a mighty tempest.” But with your hearts and minds stirred up and purified by Him, made to receive the righteousness that the Messiah gives, you can endure the Day of His Coming and can stand when He appears. That is the message spoken for you and your benefit in this Advent Season. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.