Afterwards, a parishioner, with constructive intentions, commented that I didn't mention the love of God. In response I agreed that, of course, the love of God was foundational for the Gospel (John 3:16!) but explained that I had to take that knowledge as understood on this occasion because one cannot fit everything into one sermon and in this case Advent and the text determined the theme and tone of the sermon. God's love, of course, will come in spades during Christmas!
The discussion ended with us agreeing that mission - communicating the Gospel - in a "post-Christian" culture is fraught with complications and dangers. One of those dangers, it seems to me, is distorting the Gospel by so majoring on God's love that we minor on or soft-pedal (another musical metaphor, referring to the practice of using a pedal to mute the volume of a piano) the call for repentance and fail to warn of the spiritually deadly consequences of omitting it. Note, please, that I am not protesting about majoring on the Gospel per se - cf Walther : "the Gospel should predominate in the sermon" - but on majoring on the Gospel to the exclusion of the call to repentance, which threatens to distort the Gospel into nothing more than a sort of "I'm OK, you're OK" message.
Anyway, after thinking about this (it's actually a topic I think about quite often in connection with preaching) yesterday, this morning I happened to open a book and read the following:
"We like to hear about the love of God. But who wants to hear about His wrath or even His righteousness? We love to hear about God's grace, but we are impatient when the preacher tells us about our sin. The hope of heaven is palatable preaching, but don't threaten me with the possibility of hell. But is this cozy theology really a theology to live by?... Luther's theology of the cross presents a life lived in tension between the Law and the Gospel, between what Luther calls the foreign work of God and the proper work of God. Sinners who are to be brought to repentance and faith must hear the Law of God that tells them they are lost sinners, that they are by nature "sinful and unclean", that they have sinned against God "in thought, word and deed" and that "all their righteous deeds are like a polluted garment" (Isaiah 64:6). This is what Luther calls the foreign work of God, which He must perform before He can accomplish His proper work, which is to save man through faith in Jesus Christ. This latter must be accomplished by the Gospel of God's grace in Christ."
Herman A. Preus, A Theology to Live By: The Practical Luther for the Practising Christian (CPH,1977, p57 italics mine)
The "cozy theology" that Preus questions is the theology of a bloodless Christianity which has no place for texts like Isaiah 53:5, no fear of God's wrath, no doctrine of Hell and finally no Cross where the love and the wrath of God intersect and are resolved for the purpose of our salvation. I am definitely against "cozy theology"! Paradoxically, the saving Gospel of God is only proclaimed rightly when we include the "strange" or "foreign" work of God's damning of sinners and calling them to repent in our preaching and teaching.
* I ask each of you in the presence of God who searches the heart:
Do you confess that you have sinned, and do you repent of your sins?
Do you believe that Jesus Christ has redeemed you from all your sins,
and do you desire forgiveness in his name?