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Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

by pastorjuhl ~ December 19th, 2008

Revised and shortened from 2004.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Like all royalty, our Lord Jesus does not simply sweep into the room. He is announced. Jesus is announced first to Adam and Eve in the Garden after they fell into in. Then He is announced by a long line of prophets named Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, Moses, and others. Then He is announced by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Last of all, Jesus is announced by John the Baptist. All these preachers make the same announcement: Jesus Christ is the Seed of Abraham, the Son of David, the Lord’s Christ, the Anointed One, the everlasting King, the Prince of Peace. All these preachers proclaim the same message: His Kingdom shall never end.

Since John the Baptist is the last and greatest of the prophets, his announcement of Christ’s coming is unique. John doesn’t merely preach. John also baptizes. John doesn’t simply say, “Look over there! There’s Jesus!” John prepares the royal highway for the King of Kings by preaching and baptizing with a baptism of repentance toward the forgiveness of sins.

But what good does it do for us to hear John’s preaching year after year? What does it mean for us when John makes the good confession by denying that he is the Christ while quoting Isaiah’s words about Jesus while saying that he is not worthy to loosen Jesus’ sandal strap?

For that matter, what good does it do us to hear two weeks of John after several weeks of end times prophecies? Christmas is mere hours away. Shouldn’t our focus be on the stable in Bethlehem? Shouldn’t our focus be on what Jesus is still doing in the Church today? Jesus’ birth has happened. We don’t need to ask questions about John the Baptist, Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, or any other person in the familiar accounts of Matthew, Luke, and John. The story hasn’t changed since we were younger, let alone last year.

We hear John’s preaching year after year because we often forget what his preaching means when the familiar Words of Scripture are read this time of year. We hear the Gospel writers “repeat the sounding joy” as the Christmas hymn says. But those familiar Words of Scripture seemingly go in one ear and out the other because there isn’t much joy in our world. We are thankful for our health, our family and friends, and many other gifts. But there is often something missing when Christmas comes here. For some it is family members lost this year or in years past. For others it is family members separated by distance or by disagreement.

We know Jesus’ name. We know how the account of His birth according the flesh goes. We may even know some facts about His birth that could stump the pastor! But what we often forget is that the King has indeed arrived. His Kingdom has come and still comes among us today. His good and gracious will is done. The gates of hell did not prevail against Him and, by faith in Christ, will not prevail against us.

We get so busy right about now that we forget all about John’s preaching of repentance and John’s confession of Christ. We live in Advent fear rather than Advent hope. This is not a happy time for many people. Christmas and New Year’s are the worst times of the year for many who suffer from clinical depression. There’s so much expectation and so little execution of that expectation. Whether or not someone suffers from depression, all of us tend to compartmentalize Jesus. We pull Him out when we need Him then wrap Him up and put Him away until we need Him again, just like we do our Christmas decorations and Christmas tree.

Yet here stands John the Baptist with his persistent preaching of repentance toward the forgiveness of sins. Once again he urges you and me not to take Jesus out of the Jesus-box for a little while. John doesn’t want you to dust our Lord off when you dust off those childhood memories of the perfect Christmas filled with love and joy. John’s preaching puts us face-to-face with the Savior of the Nations lying in a manger. He wants us to call upon Him in every trouble. John wants us to rely exclusively on Jesus every day of the year, not just for a few weeks toward the end of the calendar year. Saint Paul gives us encouragement in the Epistle: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

We might want to learn those two verses from Philippians by heart before Christmas. If there’s a moment when the world is about to fall apart, whether it be this Christmas or in the middle of summer, we can turn to Paul’s comforting words. The peace of God lies in a lowly barn in Bethlehem. Jesus Christ is born according to the flesh to submit Himself under the Law and to pay the ultimate price for our breaking the Law. Though Jesus was sinless, He dies as if He was sinful so that we might be blameless before our Father in heaven. His blood pleads for us. His blood covers us and declares us “not guilty” of the high crimes and misdemeanors we commit against God and against our neighbor. There is joy once again in our lives, even when there isn’t much joy to be found.

The joy of Jesus covers us with water and His Word in Baptism. The joy of Jesus given us in our Baptism is proclaimed every time we receive Holy Absolution, whether publicly in the Divine Service or privately from the pastor’s mouth. The joy of Jesus goes in our mouths under bread and wine with His Body and Blood in the Holy Supper. As certain as Jesus came in the flesh in Bethlehem, so He comes to Our Savior congregation this day, every Lord’s Day, and on Judgment Day.

Before all the hectic hubbub of Christmas, here stands John the Baptist once again speaking the Words God gives him to speak. John is not the Christ. John prepares the way for Christ. John knocks down the mountain peaks of our life that we like to stand on and think we know better than God does. John raises the valleys of our life that we lie in trying to hide from God. John’s preaching and baptism washes clean from sin and makes us worthy and well prepared to welcome the newborn King to earth once again. John’s testimony concerning Christ is as true today as it was then. Jesus, not John the Baptist, reigns and continues to reign. Rejoice, dearly beloved! Emmanuel, God with us, shall come to us and ransom us from sin, death, and hell forever!

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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