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Sțckhardt on Advent 4 РJohn 1:19-28

by pastorjuhl ~ December 13th, 2010

And how many there are who call themselves Christians and count themselves among humanity’s noble, among the elect, who put their trust in such false Christs and saviors, false prophets and zealots. They seek their salvation in power and prestige from the world, in vainglory and luxury, or in the wisdom of this world, in the human tenets of modern scribes. Christ, the Christian religion, the education and culture generated and stimulated by Christianity are for them but the bridge and means to temporal glory. And if generally their Christ still is to them a living person, they call upon him for bread, for prosperous days, for health. More than that they do not want. And the soapbox orators and public benefactors, the spokesmen of the era are the false Elijahs, who prepare the way for the false christs. Ah, these poor people just have to see and sense that every bit of the world’s might, glory, and wealth counts for nothing before God, helps, accomplishes nothing – that they with such hay and straw cannot possibly obstruct or cover up the misery of this world, their own misery, their distress caused by sin.

In this their Christ they find no rest or repose. Ever and again they must ask: Are you he? Are you Christ? Is this really the Salvation, the Way, the Truth? And too bad, for the true Christ is so near, is in their very midst. They know that everywhere among Christians this Christ is preached and witnessed. They know that this Christ, of whom true Christians speak, claims that he wants to heal all hurts, the wounds of the conscience also. He promises real lasting blessings, an eternal life – and yet they turn their backs upon preaching, upon the Bible, through which it is possible for them to receive healing. And though they come and listen once and, as the Jews, hear the truth from John: This is the One, receive Him! – they quickly fall back and flee before him who is drawing so close. They suspect, they fear that he could be the one and do not want to acknowledge him. Woe to all who do not know, who do not want to know Jesus and hurry after another!
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Oh, look for your earthly livelihood and temporal success in none other, otherwise for bread and fish you will be given serpents and scorpions and stones. “He is standing here among you.” Yet you don’t really seem to know him. It is this Christ alone from whom all good things come. In him you find what you need. If you act and walk according to his Word and Gospel, then of itself will come to you from his hand what is good and needful for you. He it is and no one else, and to his own he is all in all. He who has really come very near you. His festival, his grace, his kindness and gentleness are near you. So don’t look for your Christmas consolation, your Christmas joy in earthly tinsel, in earthly rubbish, look for it in Christ alone!
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Jesus is the Prophet who was to come into the world. His teaching is the true teaching. Woe to them who do not know and do not want to know him, who close their hearts to his grace, who rely on their own godliness, who do not find their way out of John’s school and ways, who in their need, in their misery, stay seated there and lament their entire life rather than rejoice in time and eternity. All of you, however, all you who already know Jesus and his Gospel to some degree, who have experienced his grace in your hearts, heed warning! Do not look for your salvation in John! Something of John’s disciples, something of their nature, still clings to the disciples of Jesus. Don’t say: It’s true, Christ has done the most important, has made atonement for sin, gives power to renewal, but now I must go the way of my own works so that the final goal may be achieved. Yes, a Christian should and can perform good works. But the truly good works do not even save us, and the works of the born-again Christians do not aid to salvation. Works are not Christ and dare not be attached to the outermost seam of his raiment. Do not say: Yes, through Christ alone I am saved, but in order that I may obtain Christ, I must first withdraw from world and sin; only through such remorse and repentance do I win Christ.

True, repentance must precede Christ and faith; John is the way-preparer. But sincere repentance of the heart, remorse, is not Christ, is not the first rung on Jacob’s ladder. Christ alone is the Way. And he is offered to you in the Word before any of your repentance and before any act of preparation on your part. Here he is close to you, in the Gospel. Accept him, at once, as soon as possible, as often as you hear of him. Do not say: Christ becomes mine only through faith. Therefore the decision dealing with life and death rests upon my faith or unbelief, upon my conduct. True, by faith we are saved. But this faith is itself a gift and work of Christ. Through the Word faith is worked in your heart. And that it takes hold of and clings to Christ, that alone gives faith its value.

Our faith, our conviction, our hoping and waiting, is not Christ. Our salvation does not rest upon our attitude but upon Christ alone. Likewise our praying, our patience in enduring the cross is not Christ. The one who seek and finds consolation and contentment in his own patient praying and enduring finds no comfort whatsoever. You have to look away from everything that is of self – look only to him who has come into your midst, give ear to his Word, partake of his Sacrament. He is to be found here in Word and Sacrament. But once more, be careful you do not make out of Word and Sacrament a human work! Should a preacher say: My preaching does it, my baptizing, my officiating – and if the hearers are caught up only in the preacher, or comfort themselves in outward sermon hearing, church going, communing, want to be justified before God by their external offering of worship, they are serving a false christ.

John calls himself a voice of a preacher in the wilderness. When he testified of Jesus: He standeth there among you, – his own person should become of no significance. Christ, whom he preached, should be all in all. He said: I baptize with water. The water baptism of John was simple water; but because Christ was present in John’s baptismal water, his baptism had saving power. Not upon human words, human teaching, not upon the outward work and offering, no, upon Christ alone are eyes and heart riveted, upon Christ, who is present and works effectively in the Word, in Baptism, in the Lord’s Supper.

In the upcoming celebration don’t let emotion and feeling, don’t let festive glitter and decoration, let Christ alone be the Alpha and Omega, the beginning, middle, and aim of your worship!
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Give glory to him who has come into your midst! Give him the glory by humbling yourselves before him, as did John! He did not consider himself worthy to loosen his shoelaces, to perform for him the least, the most menial service. Lay bare before him your nakedness and poverty and impotence! Confess to him: Ah, that of which we are so proud – our honor, our wisdom, our possessions, our virtue, our piety – all this is our shame. We are unworthy of him. yes, by what we have done, sinned, neglected, we have given up all right to be treated with consideration. We are not worthy to render him the least slavish service. What we have merited is that he should reject us forever. And with that give him, your Savior, the glory, that you receive him! See what incomprehensible mercy it is that he has come nigh unto you, condemned children that you are, that he has not rejected you, that he wants to receive you not as servants but as children, that he does not want to be served by you, but that he serves you, heals your wounds through his Gospel, offers you righteousness, life, and salvation, again gives you the image of God.

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