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Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

by pastorjuhl ~ December 19th, 2009

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

Saint Paul asks in Romans chapter ten, how shall they hear without a preacher? How shall the priests and Levites sent from the Jews hear? They come to John the Baptizer with open mouths and closed ears. They ask two questions: Who are you? and Why do you baptize? John gives them the right answers to their questions, but they won’t hear the right answers because John’s answers are not the answers they want to hear.

The Levites and priests do not hear Moses confess The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear…I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. Moses and John speak the same words: Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight. Moses and John bear the same burden. They both prepare God’s people for the Seed of the woman Who will crush the head of the serpent.

Like those sent from the Jews, you look for different answers to your questions. You ask, “Who is the Lord? Are you really the Christ promised in Holy Scripture? Are you just another messenger? Are you truly the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Or are you a way, a truth, and a life among other ways, truths, and lives?” When you hear the right answers to your questions, perhaps you close your ears just as the priests and Levites did. John the Baptizer’s message of repentance and preparation might not sit well with you. His is an uncomfortable message in a comforting time of the year. The world is joyful and it seems like Christians should wear mourning clothes.

Mourning over sin is a fine way to prepare for the birth of the Savior according to the flesh. John’s preaching clears the underbrush of sin and death out of the way so the way of the Lord is made straight. As the beloved Christmas carol “Joy to the World” says: “No more let sins and sorrows grow/ Nor thorns infest the ground; / He comes to make His blessings flow/ Far as the curse is found.”

Who is John? He is the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Make straight the way of the Lord.” The way of the Lord is made straight when the Word of the Lord is preached in all its sternness, yet also in all its sweetness. The stern word sounds through Moses from God Almighty, Who appeared before His people in the wilderness in cloud and majesty and awe: whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of Him. Moses and John preach harsh words. You need to hear them. These words cut you to the quick because you set your heart on created things rather than the Living Bread that comes down from heaven. If you do not listen to what John is preaching, you will not find Jesus.

The sweet word sounds through the angels that appear to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds by their flocks outside Bethlehem. The sweet word sounds also through John the Baptizer. John baptizes. John beckons you out of sin, into the wilderness of repentance, and leads you to the river of life. John has done his job once you are at the river. Standing in the middle of the river like an oasis in the desert in Jesus Christ. John points to Jesus and proclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. Behold the Lamb of God, Who takes away your sin. Behold the Lamb of God, Who gives you the life of absolution in the water of Baptism.”

Ever since the day John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, our Lord has been found in the water. He locates Himself there for you. Flowing through the desert of repentance is the water of life. This water of life is where your sin-scorched conscience finds the soothing coolness of forgiveness. This water of life is where your sin-parched heart finds shade and refreshment in the shadow of the cross. This water quenches your mouth with the sweet drink of the compassion of God. Jesus is found in the river of absolution. Jump in the river. The water is fine. Drink it all up. Bathe in it. Swim in it. Soak up the water in the fountain of immortality.

Jesus Christ has been baptized in blood, sprinkled on the Font of the cross by His own sliced veins. A soldier braced himself and thrust his cruel spear upward into the side of the Son of God. From our Savior’s side flowed water and blood. One fork fills the chalice; the other fork fills the font. When you desire forgiveness, you go to the blood. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. The life of God is in the blood of His only-begotten Son. The life of God is in the font, the chalice, and the absolution. Rest in these means of grace. Rest in His life. Rest in your merciful God.

Now you see why John was unworthy to stoop down and undo the sandal strap of the One among them Who was yet to come. John the Baptizer cannot make the perfect sacrifice our Father in heaven expects. You cannot make that sacrifice either. Only Jesus Christ, God in flesh, can give His life to cover your sins. Only Jesus Christ can deliver healing in His wings as the hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” says. Only Jesus Christ lays His glory by the wayside to raise the sons of earth through the second birth of Holy Baptism into life everlasting when He returns to judge the living and the dead.

Blessed are you who hear the message John the Baptizer brings! John proclaims righteousness by preparing the way for the One Who comes after Him. This One shall place the crown of everlasting life on your head when He returns to raise you from the dead, transform your lowly body into the likeness of His immortal body, and hold your hand as you enter the joy of paradise forevermore. Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

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

(Adapted from 2005, with gratitude to Chad Bird for some of his thoughts. SDG)

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