Here is where and how the Gospel begins. This is how the Lord comes to you, to comfort you and give you life. And this is how you are prepared for His coming.
He sends a preacher to voice His Word, which alone endures forever. Everything else will wither and fade, or be destroyed, but His Word remains. Thus, He sends a preacher to speak that eternal Word of His to your heart, for the purpose of turning your heart to Him in faith and love.
But what does your heart trust? What does your heart fear, and what does it long for? What does your heart love? Whatever it is to which your heart clings, on which it depends, before which it bows, that is your god. That is what drives you and determines your thoughts, words, and deeds.
Bear this in mind, therefore: Everything in heaven and on earth, all the world’s works, all its wisdom and its ways, all of it is passing away. It is already dead and dying. Of all that entices you, and of all that threatens you, none of it shall remain, and none of it is able to save you.
It is not that creation is faulty or inherently flawed. God’s good work of creation is not evil. It is fallen into chaos and corruption by the curse and consequences of man’s sin. It is driven into death and destruction by man’s willful disobedience and departure from God. It is for this reason that the whole world and all that is in it is falling apart and fading away, and man along with it; for it is found to be under the judgment of God.
Now the same Lord God, the Almighty, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, He is coming: He was, and is, and is to come. And He remains forever. No one else is worthy or able to redeem you or save you, but He is, and He does. He comes to judge the living and the dead, to rescue the righteous, and to make all things new.
Hence, a new “in the beginning,” a new “let there be,” and it is so. For the Lord is spoken in the flesh. He enters into His own creation, and, not only that, He takes the burden of its mortality, its dying, upon Himself. As man has brought about the downfall of creation by his sin, so does the New Man, Christ Jesus, the incarnate God, redeem creation and raise it up by His faithfulness.
He comes to put sin and death to death in His own Body on the Cross, in order to bring about the New Creation in the Resurrection of His Body. So it is that His own flesh and blood are the new heavens and the new earth, the home where righteousness dwells.
He is the One who is coming, here and now, and hereafter. He is the Mighty One, who comes to be your Judge, whether unto righteousness and peace and life with God, or unto condemnation and eternal punishment.
How, then, shall you meet Him? Face to face, in faith? Or with your back to Him, in ignorant fear? Are you confident in His forgiveness? Or shall you be condemned in faithless unbelief?
These are not rhetorical or pointless questions, but are of pressing importance and urgency.
As St. Peter has admonished you, in view of the coming destruction of the earth with all its works, conduct yourself in holiness and godly fear. Fix your attention and your hope, not on these things that are perishing, but on the Day of the Lord. Relying on His Word and promise, be diligent to be found at peace with Him, and, in so far as it depends on you, at peace with all people.
Refrain from doing evil. Persist in doing good. Live according to the commandments of God, yet resting yourself, not in your own merit, but in His mercy. For He is patient, and He would not have you perish. Thus, He calls you to repentance, to be saved by faith in His forgiveness of all your sins, and to live by His Righteousness.
Repent, therefore. Turn away from sin and death, and away from all your idols. Look instead to the One who is coming, and live. If your heart is proud, humble yourself before Him. If your heart is despairing, lift up your head in hope, because your Redeemer is drawing near. If your heart is greedy and selfish, give your possessions away to the one who has nothing. If you are consumed by some lust or addiction, let go of those false gods and seek the Lord where He is found.
Whatever you have done, whatever you have been, Repent. A broken and contrite heart, the Lord will not despise. Be baptized. Or, if you are baptized, return to your Baptism. Be crucified with Christ by contrition and repentance. Day by day, as often as you sin in your thoughts, words, and deeds, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God to seek and receive His Gospel. Be raised to newness of life, not by your own bootstraps, but through faith in His Word.
Consider the way the Lord your God has come in the flesh. He has submitted Himself to St. John’s preaching and baptism, in order to die the death of repentance for the forgiveness of all your sins. And His own God and Father has raised Him from the dead for your justification.
It is this Gospel of forgiveness that is spoken to you and given to you by His Word, which He causes to be preached to you. For that is how He shepherds you and His whole flock.
So, then, go out to the preacher whom the Lord has sent, and so hear His voice in the wilderness proclaiming His forgiveness of your sins. Return to the waters of your Baptism, and enter the good land that God has promised, by going out to the “Jordan River,” confessing your sins.
This is what a contrite and penitent heart is called to do, first of all. Confess your sins, therefore, and confess the Christ who comes to you, in order to live by His Word of the Gospel. Not by your own reason and strength, and not by your good intentions or sincere emotions, but by the hearing and heeding of His Word and the preaching of it.
Do not take lightly or for granted, and do not let go, the significance, the strength and salvation of His Voice, that is, the proclamation of His Word, the speaking of Christ that is heard. It is the beginning of the Gospel. It is the means by which you receive Christ and are saved by His grace.
His Word works it all in your ears, in your mind, and in your heart. His Voice in the darkness, His preaching, brings about the New Creation of His Resurrection and His Righteousness in your body and soul, in your whole life. It is by the ministry of His messengers, whom He sends before His face, that you are prepared for His coming, and for life with Him in the new heavens and earth.
Because it is true that you daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment, His threats, His discipline and warnings may seem to go on and on forever. And yet, He restrains His wrath and withholds His anger from crushing you completely, because His righteous judgment and His gracious will have been accomplished and established for you by the Cross of Christ.
He calls you daily to repentance because He is patient and persistent in His desire to save you. And when He crucifies you, it is for the sake of resurrecting you with Christ unto newness of life.
Indeed, the Word of the Lord that endures forever is finally His Word of comfort, which declares that your warfare is ended; that your iniquity is pardoned; that you have peace and rest with God.
Hear and receive this comfort that is spoken to your heart. And know this, that the fierceness of God’s Law is for the sake of bringing you to this sweet and comforting sound of His Absolution. For every sin which would destroy you has been borne by Christ and borne away.
Assuredly, His Voice of the Gospel does what He declares: “I forgive you,” He says by the mouth of His servant, and you are forgiven. He speaks, and it is so. With this Word, He does make you and all things new. His Voice brings forth Life out of death, and Light out of the darkness.
You are sealed by that very Word of the Father as a new creation in Christ Jesus by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection. Being united with Christ, the Lord, the incarnate Son of God, by the washing of the water with His Word and Holy Spirit in His Name, you have been rescued and are kept safe for time and for eternity. There is nothing in heaven or on earth that can destroy you.
These means of the Gospel are not simply means to some other end, but are already the beginning of salvation, which shall be fully revealed at the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ in Glory. And by these same means, so shall you be found blameless in body, soul, and spirit at His coming.
Even now, it is the milk and honey of the new heavens and the new earth which flow for you here, in the midst of the wilderness. From the Altar of Christ, from the Sacrifice of His Cross, from His own hand of love, and with His own voice, He gives to you His Body and pours out for you His Blood, for the forgiveness of all your sins. This is your home, and this is where you dwell with Him in righteousness.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.