Sunday, December 14, 2008

Advent 3 Sermon -- John 1:6-8, 19-28 (LSB Advent 3B)

December 14, 2008 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church - Mechanicsburg, PA

“There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.”

Identity and authority are important. You see just how important they are in the dialogue between John and the priests and Levites. You have already heard that John “came as a witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” John’s job is to speak the truth about the Coming Christ. For as you heard last week, John is the forerunner of the Christ, the one who comes to prepare the way of the Lord, just as is written by the prophet Isaiah. As the forerunner, John proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

But John’s activity and its success bring questions from the Jerusalem authorities: “The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” The Evangelist even drops a bit of information about them: “Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.” The Temple authorities—the priests and Levites—demand to know why John is baptizing. The teachers of the Law—the Pharisees—demand to know why John is preaching.

And so they ask: “Who are you?” They want John’s credentials. They want John to state his authority. After John says: “I am not the Christ,” these Jerusalem leaders ask if John is one of the promised Old Testament figures who were to come: “What then? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?” But each time John says: “No.” John speaks as his father Zacharias did at his birth. Told by an angel of the Lord that his son John would be the forerunner, Zacharias says about him: “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.” And so the Baptizer simply confesses what he knows about himself, what has been told about him by the angel and his father: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

But the Evangelist tells you that such a claim of authority was dismissed by the priests and Levites: “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” Though John claims to be the fulfillment of the Lord God’s promise given through the prophet Isaiah, the Jerusalem leaders reject him. They do not accept what John says about himself (which is nothing other than what the Lord God says about John), a preview of how they would reject the Greater One (and what the Lord God says about Him) who comes after John. And the Baptizer declares it to them: “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the straps of whose sandal I am unworthy to untie.”

All this is what happens to the one who “came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” Rejection is what John receives on this day. It is the opposite of other times when he had all sorts of Judeans and Jerusalemites going out to him, hearing his message about repentance, believing it, and being baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Some are called by the Lord God to belief and others are not. But John speaks regardless of the audience.

This incident reveals something about your identity and your authority. You have been called by the Lord God to believe. As the Holy Spirit has come to you by the preaching of Christ’s Word and by that same Word connected to water in Holy Baptism, you have been made believers. You know what the Baptizer knows about the way of the Lord. You know who comes after John, “the One whose sandals [you and John] are unworthy to untie.” But you do not simply know who Jesus is, you know Him to be your Lord and Savior, the One who has redeemed you and brought you out of death to life.

It wasn’t always this way. Before that work of the Holy Spirit, you had the same reaction as the priests, Levites, and Pharisees: unbelief in what the messengers of the Lord God were speaking, rejection of the authority they carried. That same unbelief can creep back into your lives as Satan and your own sinful nature and their sinful allies in the world want to strip you of your identity. They want you to ask the questions that the priests and Levites ask, those which bring into doubt what the Church does: “Why do baptize, why do you preach, why do you speak about sin and forgiveness, why do you conform to the Lord God’s ways?”

That is the reaction the world gives to those whom the Lord God has called. You heard Isaiah’s prophecy: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn . . . .” This speaks first and foremost about Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One. But it also describes Isaiah, John, and you who have been given the Holy Spirit.

But what happens when you begin to do what Isaiah describes? When you speak about Christ and the good news of His salvation, do you get the same reaction as the priests and Levites gave to John? Are you asked: “Why do you talk about that? Do you believe that rubbish, that old-fashioned, unenlightened drivel about God?” Or perhaps you are asked: “Who made you God’s spokesman? Who are you to tell me about sin, let alone forgiveness? How can you talk about holiness, if you’re no saint yourself?” This is how the world treats those whom they do not know, even Christ Himself.

What happens when you begin to do what Isaiah describes? That is a good question to ask. But another needs to be put forward: Do you do what Isaiah describes? Do you speak about Christ and the good news of His salvific work for you? Or do you get the reaction from your own self: “Who am I to speak about the Lord God? Do I believe and know the Greater One that John spoke of?” It is at those moments that a return to the witness that the Holy Spirit has worked through Isaiah, John, and the other Scripture writers about Christ and His work in you is in order.

The Lord God calls you back in repentance: to turn your minds away from the sinfulness of the world, even the doubt it causes in you, and to return to His good news of forgiveness and salvation for you. In that your identity and authority are found: you have been set free; the Lord God’s favor has been given to you; you have been anointed with the Holy Spirit; and so you can proclaim the goodness of what has been done for you. The Apostle Paul reminds you of this identity and what the Lord God will do for you: “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and He will surely do it.”

The Lord God who has called you to faith is faithful to you. He has made you His own. The world will not accept you or your Lord, but the Lord Jesus knows you and calls you by name. When you speak about Him, there will be people like the priests and Levites who will reject you and the Lord God. Some will even dismiss you and everything you say; others may even insult and degrade you. But remember what your Lord says: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

“Rejoice and be glad.” It seems odd, but it is true. You have been given the identity as the Lord God’s people. You have been anointed with the Holy Spirit and been given the authority to proclaim the goodness that you have received from Him. It is true that you are unworthy to untie Christ’s sandals, and yet He calls you His servants, His friends, and even His brothers. The world may reject and revile you—just as they did to Isaiah, Paul, and John—because the world does not know Christ, but it does know that you are different, that you are odd and strange compared to it. You are different because Christ has given you a new life as He has connected you to His death and resurrection for your salvation.

But the difference that has been given to you does not end with being rejected or reviled or questioned like the Baptizer. There is a great promise given to those who have been made the Lord God’s people and anointed with His Holy Spirit. A day is coming when the difference in you will not be considered odd, but will be recognized as something great, something that the sinful world will even desire but will not receive. For you heard the Lord God speak through Isaiah: “I will make an everlasting covenant with them. Their offspring shall be known among the nations, and their descendants in the midst of the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge them, that they are an offspring that the Lord has blessed.”

That is what has been promised to you, as you have been anointed by the Holy Spirit: “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” But it is also promised to those who hear and believe what you say about the Lord God, as you speak about what you have received from Christ. For not everyone will reject you; some will believe, just as they believed Isaiah, Paul, and John. The “everlasting covenant” is not yours and yours alone, it is meant for everyone who has been given the new identity as the people whom Christ has redeemed.

So tell out the goodness of the Christ done for you, just as John prepared the way for His arrival. For you have been made voices to cry out in the wilderness of this world to lead others to belief. You have been anointed by the Holy Spirit and made witnesses about the light that Christ has shone in the darkness of your lives, that all might believe through you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

No comments: