At Christmas, we think –- we, Americans who say we are Christians –- we deserve a break from the things we do every day. We deserve a rest. We deserve to sleep on the sofa, and to have a big meal, and then to sleep on the sofa again, and watch a parade or some football, or whatever it is that gets done on the only day of the year WAL*MART closes for business.
But what happens at Christmas happens exactly because we don’t deserve a break. What we deserve is, frankly, the wrath of God. That’s why Malachi gave that warning when he was closing up the Prophetic shop of the Old Testament – that’s what we deserve. That’s why, 400 years later, John is in the Wilderness in the spirit and power of Elijah demanding that we make a straight path for God, and that we repent from sin.
It’s because the King is coming. See: the King is coming here. If your football buddy is coming to dinner, you clean the house up a little – but what if the Governor of your state was coming to dinner? You’d probably get some help to clean up, wouldn’t you? You’d recruit people to make sure your lawn wasn’t a disgrace, and your whole house – from linen closet to kitchen sink – would be ready for him to come. You’d do something extra because the Governor is important.
But John was saying, “Listen: the King of Everything is coming – His Kingdom is at hand. Get ready because the King is coming and things should be set right for His sake.” And what people did, when they heard this message, was repent.
Isn’t that crazy? You’d think that if God the covenant-keeper, God the friend of Abraham, was coming to Israel, they’d set up a party and pull out the stops. It ought to be a moment of history when people – especially Israel – are dancing in the streets and having a tail-gate. But these people heard John and they wanted to repent of their sin.
If you don’t understand why, let me explain it to you. Or rather, let’s let Jesus explain what the Kingdom of God is like:
[Luke 19] … they supposed that the kingdom of God was to appear immediately. He said therefore, “A nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Calling ten of his servants, he gave them ten minas, and said to them, ‘Engage in business until I come.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’
When he returned, having received the kingdom, he ordered these servants to whom he had given the money to be called to him, that he might know what they had gained by doing business. The first came before him, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities.’ And the second came, saying, ‘Lord, your mina has made five minas.’ And he said to him, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’
Then another came, saying, ‘Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man. You take what you did not deposit, and reap what you did not sow.’
Now, before we finish this story up, think about this: the third servant feared his master enough to hide the small treasure he was given. But the others have returned the gift to their master greater still. Now: is it because they didn’t fear him, or is it because they appreciated the kind of gift they were given? Let’s see what the severe master says about that:
He said to him, ‘I will condemn you with your own words, you wicked servant! You knew that I was a severe man, taking what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow? Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’
And they said to him, ‘Lord, he has ten minas!’
‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. But as for these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slaughter them before me.‘”
So the severe master thought that if he gave something to a servant, the servant ought to do something with it. But notice that the master doesn’t say, “no, I’m not a severe master – please forgive me for making you think I was a bad guy.” He said, “You’re right – and because you’re a lazy and wicked servant, I’m going to show you have severe I am.”
Listen: the Kingdom of God is not going to be about a lot of plush animals getting handed around to be hugged so we can feel better. It’s going to be about a judgment which leaves the enemies of the King slaughtered – not merely by some act of war, but as an act of noble justice and holiness because He commanded it. His enemies will be at His feet, and He will deal with them severely.
And the one who’s going to do this – He came born in a stable, and sent His messengers not to the castles or the palaces or the Senates of His day, but to a few Shepherds who had enough good sense to be afraid of what they heard and saw, and then do something about it.
They were afraid of the wrath of God. The people John baptized were afraid of God’s wrath. You should think about whether or not you are afraid of God’s wrath. Because if you are not, you don’t really know why we can enjoy Christmas after all.