Monday, December 24, 2012

Thoughts for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (John 1)

On the fourth Sunday in Advent we are duty bound by hundreds of years of church history to speak about John the Baptist.  That is the appointed Gospel text for the day.  If there are any single ladies out there, John the Baptist is not the sort of guy you want to bring home to your parents.  

The guy wears a coat of camel hair a big leather belt.  If you brought him over for dinner I don’t know how he would respond to your fancy food, your china dinnerware, and your liquor cabinet.  

John ate locusts, bugs, and honey.  This guy is a bit on the edge.  On the edge of time, an apocalyptic, end times guy.  John the Baptist however, is interested in one thing, the coming of Christ.  He cries out to the crowds ‘Repent!’  The Kingdom of God is drawing near.  

That is to say, quit your idolatry.  Quit your fascination and obsession with your television and your entertainment.  Quit your gossiping and tearing down, do you not know that the judge is at the door.  

He reminded them of the convent at Sinai.  He reminded them of the penalty for willful sin and disobedience to God.  Fornication outside of marriage, nothing was off limits.  Keep in mind John got his head lopped off for telling Herod that he shouldn’t take a woman into bed without marriage.  Many pastors today are met with a similar fate.    

John during His ministry cried out “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.  Among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”  

That is to say, get your house in order.  John probably wouldn’t have done well with our call committee here when you folks were looking for a new pastor.  A little edgy, a little too much fire and brimstone maybe.  

Faithful? Yes.  A Preacher of God’s Word?  Yes.  But it must be said that wherever God’s Word is taught in its truth and purity, there it will encounter great opposition and resistance.

So today we consider the fiery preacher from the River Jordan.  Yet in the Gospels John has but one mission.  When Jesus comes to the river to be baptized.  It is John who says “Behold the Kingdom of Heaven is drawing near.”  That is to say, heaven is itself Jesus.  And Jesus is the Kingdom of Heaven.  

John in a flash of ecstatic delight calls out Behold, look, the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world.”  John says this, looking at Jesus, and pointing Jesus out to all of His followers.  The crowds followed John because John spoke of and followed Jesus.  And now God is here is human flesh.    

Later when Jesus ministry begins, John’s work is done.  John is the last of the Old Testament prophets. The long awaited Messiah is now here. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, and Malachi, and John the Baptist have fulfilled their work.  John now speaks to his followers, concerning himself, simply saying “I must decrease and he must increase.”  We don’t hear anything more about John.  And so it is.  John’s head is cutoff for stirring the pot too much about adultery.  And he is whisked off to heaven to receive his reward there. 
John the Baptist provides a model for all preachers and pastors in Christ.  He embodies the words of St. Paul who writes in 1st Corinthians “We preach nothing but Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ  is the power of God and wisdom of the cross.”  

Holy Scripture also says “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  The work of all prophets is to point to Jesus.  It is the work of all pastors to point to Jesus.  Nothing more, nothing less.  

You go to the average church, maybe even a Lutheran one for worship.  You’ll get a couple cute stories, a hunting story, a heart-wrenching video on the big screen projectors and maybe a bible verse, and you can call it a day.  People are comfortable with that.  It’s neat and tidy.  People can smile, laugh, feel good about themselves and consider it all a remarkable success.

John the Baptist wouldn’t permit it.  The first words we hear John the Baptist say are repent, flee from the wrath to come.  The first words Jesus says are repent.  The first of the 95 theses of Martin Luther nailed to the church doors were “repent, the kingdom of God is near.”  Advent is all about repentance.  

Jesus is coming after all.  The little baby, the infant child priest, is God of God and light of light.  This child will judge the living and the dead.  He will separate the sheep from the goats.  And say to those who didn’t have time for him he will say without a hint of malice “Depart from me…for I do not know you.”  

Rather than following the entertainers and popular preachers of our day.  Listen and heed the voice of John the Baptist.  He is a preacher for our era of slouching morals, decadence, and destruction of common virtues and godly living.  

We are slouching toward Sodom and Gomorrah and John is our man.  A real man for our times.  You don’t have to take him home for dinner.  But you should treasure his words in your heart.  Soon Jesus will be born.  Angels will sing and so should you.  
Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.  I must decrease and He must increase.  Here what Pastor Luther preaches to his congregation in Wittenberg:  

Now, if you are able to believe that this voice of John speaks the truth, and if you are able to follow his finger and recognize the Lamb of God carrying your sin, then you have gained the victory, then you are a Christian, a master of sin, death, hell, and all things. Then your conscience will rejoice and become heartily fond of this gentle Lamb of God. Then will you love, praise, and give thanks to our heavenly Father for this infinite wealth of his mercy, preached by John and given in Christ. 

And finally you will become cheerful and willing to do his divine will, as best you can, with all your strength. For what lovelier and more comforting message can be heard than that our sins are not ours any more, that they no more lie on us, but on the Lamb of God. 

How can sin condemn such an innocent Lamb? Lying on him, it must be vanquished and made to nothing, and likewise death and hell, being the reward of sin, must be vanquished also. Behold what God our Father has given us in Christ! 

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