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Advent 4 – John 1:19-28

by pastorjuhl ~ January 28th, 2014

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

            Haul out the holly! Put up the tree before my spirit falls again. Fill up the stockings. I may be rushing things, but deck the halls again NOW.

The rush has been on since November 1, or even earlier. We need a little Christmas this time of year. Actually, we need a whole lot of Christmas. But come about 3:00 Christmas afternoon we will be ready to shove the decorations and carols and all the Christmas claptrap back in boxes until next year. We’ve had enough of Christmas, right this very minute.

Perhaps one reason why we’ve had enough of Christmas is that we haven’t taken the time to prepare for the big day. You may think I’m crazy for saying that because you’ve been baking, decorating, and getting ready for weeks now. Christmas is all about preparation! That’s true, but what kind of preparation is necessary for December 25?

Children of the world aren’t expecting a Redeemer. They know of no reason why they should prepare for His coming. Christmas has no other meaning for so many people than a mere external, ceremonial meaning. It’s an end of the year custom to deck the halls with hundreds, if not thousands, of twinkling lights and tinsel. Oh, sure, there will be the customary nativity scene, too. But look at that tree! Look at the dozens of cookies and candy in the freezer just waiting for the big day!

How about we put the brakes on baking, decorating, and listening to Christmas songs on the radio for a few minutes? How about we take a trip to the Judean wilderness, to the banks of the Jordan River and hear how John, the forerunner of the Lord, preaches to the entire world about the right preparation for the Lord’s coming.

It was a blessed time in Israel as the Lord gave His bodily Advent. John the Baptist was His forerunner, His “angel”, so to speak. As we heard Jesus say in last week’s Gospel reading: This is he of whom it is written, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.” Four hundred plus years before, the prophet Malachi proclaimed, Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. John faithfully carried out his calling as messenger. He took all eyes off himself and directed them solely to the Lord.

John confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.””Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 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.” Sounds like a lot of denials and not much confessing. In all the denials is a confession of who John is and, more importantly, who Jesus is. John is not the Messiah. Jesus is the Messiah, the One among them the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.

It’s easy to get caught up in celebrating Christmas for all the wrong reasons. That is why it is good to get away from the busy activities of this season and listen to John the Baptist confess who he is by confessing who he is not. John puts everything into perspective. It is the Lord’s advent among us according to the flesh that we’ve spent these last few weeks considering. This is our greatest desire as Christians. By all means, haul out the holly and put up the tree. But take some time to examine yourself and discover anew why there is a season of Advent and Christmas.

Take some time to hear the message of John: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Cast away the works of darkness, as we sang last week in “Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding”. The greatest desire of this season is not getting everything you want on your Christmas list. It is receiving the Lord Jesus among us as a living, breathing, crying, fussing, smiling, strapping Baby Boy. As Saint Paul told us three weeks ago, the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

What does it mean to put on the Lord Jesus Christ? Putting on Christ means to stop walking in the way of death and walk instead in the way of life. The high mountains must be made low and the crooked way made plain. Consider John the Baptist as the prime example of putting on Christ. He is humble before God and man. A fruit of repentance is humility. He knows he is sinful. He knows he deserves nothing but everlasting death and torment. Nevertheless, he trusts in Jesus alone as his Savior from everlasting death and torment.

With repentance comes true faith in Jesus Christ and an ardent desire for His gracious presence. Consider the account of John’s mother Elisabeth and Mary the Mother of God. When Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting, John leapt in his mother’s womb. He leapt because he was in the presence of the Most High God, now gestating in His earthly mother’s womb. Years later, John confesses His Savior in a dispute between his disciples and a Jewish man. Everyone was starting to flock to Jesus over John. Didn’t this make John upset? Not so. John responds, The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.

There’s the secret not only of Advent and Christmas, but every day of the year. The Lord Christ must increase, and I must decrease. The Lord Christ increases in you when you remain steadfast in the teaching and preaching of Jesus Christ. You trust His Word when everything else points against it. You cling to Jesus alone when others helpers fail and comforts flee. Jesus has come to shed His blood for you in order that you are ransomed, bought back, from the powers of hell. He calls you to follow Him, to die to this world and live in His gracious presence in the preaching of His Word and the giving of His Gifts under water, Word, bread, and wine. Christ now dwells in you and you in Him. You cannot help but show His love in all you say and do.

When do we not need a little Christmas? The answer is “never.” There’s always a need for Christmas, just as there’s always a need for Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and all ecclesiastical seasons. It’s good to prepare for the big day, but don’t forget the most important preparation: your preparation to receive Jesus the Savior-King according to the flesh. He comes to take your sin and give you His righteousness. Believe it for His sake.

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

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