Third Sunday of Advent

A Sunday school teacher wanted to know if her students understood their need for a Savior to get to heaven, so she asked her class, “If you clean your room every day, shovel the snow, and wash the dishes, will that get you into heaven?” A few of the kids who earn an allowance for doing their chores said, “Yes.” Turning to the others she asked, “If you are kind to animals, share whatever you have, don’t cheat at school or in games, and do good, will that get you into heaven?” Now most of them thought so, but not everyone. So she quizzed the rest once more, “If you sell your iPad and your iPhone, and give all your money to the poor, and endure everything without complaining, will that get you into Heaven?” Now everyone said, “Yes,” except for one young girl. Seeing that at least one person in her class understood that good deeds are not enough to save us, she asked the girl to explain what we need to get into heaven. She replied, “We need to die.” Sadly, none of her young students said we need a Savior. They all believed that they must earn their way into heaven by their good deeds.

St. Paul writes, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:3). We are not the source of love. Jesus is. We need the Savior to forgive our sins and put love in our hearts. John the Baptist is our model here. He could not save himself or others. He denied that he was the Messiah. He was a voice in the wilderness announcing the coming of the Savior whose sandal he was not worthy to loosen.

Now John held his classes for anyone who would listen. But his lessons were alarming. He cried out, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? … Even now the axe is at the root of the trees … and the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Lk 3:9, 17). So his students asked him, “What shall we do?” John replied, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none.” To tax collectors he said, “Collect no more than is appointed to you.” And to soldiers, “Rob no one … and be content with your wages.” But isn’t this salvation by good works? Is John saying we don’t need a Savior? Heavens no! Instead John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” We need Jesus to save us. We are saved by forgiveness and grace, not by good works.

Blessed be God who has freed us from the captivity of our sins and graciously baptized us with his Holy Spirit. We needed a Savior to get to heaven, and we have one, Jesus Christ, whose birth we are preparing to celebrate. Let us rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.