Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (B)
December 14, 2008
Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

The Prophet John was sent by God for a very specific task: to prepare the way for Jesus Christ. He was sent to be a witness to the Light, so that all who hear John’s testimony, right up to the present day, may come to believe in that Light, the Light of the world, the Light that is Jesus Christ. God would have all to be saved, to come to a knowledge of the truth, to step into the Light that is Jesus Christ and so receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation. And God has not left us without a witness to point the way to the Light. God has given us His Word. And in our text this morning, He gives His Word through John the Baptist, a prophet that not only cried to those gathered around him in the wilderness east of the Jordan, but so also, through the pages of Holy Scripture, he is a prophet who cries to us this morning in Dorr, Michigan, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (John 1:23; ESV).

John is not the Light. John is not the Messiah, about that he is quite clear. John has been sent by God to bear witness to the Light, to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Notice that the ministry of John is all about Jesus. Even when the religious establishment in Jerusalem sends priests and Levites to ask John who he thinks he is and why he does the things he does, John does not talk about himself. He is always bearing witness to the Light. He is always pointing people to Jesus Christ. The priests and Levites and Pharisees were very concerned about John’s ministry in the wilderness. He was drawing great crowds from Jerusalem. He was very popular among the people. He must have been, for there is no other reason they would be traveling to the desert region on the east side of the Jordan River. The religious leaders wonder what it is that John is claiming about himself. Does he think he is the Messiah? That could cause a lot of trouble, for the people thought that when Messiah comes, he will lead a military defeat of the Romans and restore the earthly kingdom of Israel to the Jews. As we learned last week, John certainly dresses in a strange way. He dresses in camel’s hair and leather, the clothing of the great Prophet Elijah. Elijah was taken bodily into heaven, as you’ll recall, a great chariot of fire swooping down from God and taking him out of sight. The people thought that Elijah would return bodily to usher in the age of the Messiah. Is this who John thinks he is? Or maybe he thinks he is the prophet whom Moses says will come in Deuteronomy 18 (v. 15): “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen.” But notice, as the priests and Levites interview John, he does not take such honor upon himself. “He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ’” (John 1:20). And even though Jesus declared that John was the one who was to come in the spirit of Elijah (cf. Matt. 10-13), John does not want the people to misunderstand and think that he is Elijah in the flesh, and so even this he denies, “I am not” (John 1:21). Nor does he claim to be the prophet like unto Moses, for that prophet is Jesus Christ Himself. No, John was not sent to bear witness about himself or the great things he was doing. John was not the Light, but God had sent him to bear witness to the Light. And even when the priests and Levites ask him plainly, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” (v. 22), even then, in answering, John points to Jesus Christ. “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’” (v. 23). John’s very identity is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. John is the forerunner, the prophet sent to prepare the way and to call upon us to prepare the way by repenting of our sins and believing that God has come to His people in the flesh of Jesus.

John has come to prepare the way for Jesus by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. That is what John’s ministry is all about, repentance and the forgiveness of sins. That is what all Christian ministry is about. That is what the Church is about. That is what you are about as priests of God. Therefore, like John, your very identity is wrapped up in the person of Jesus Christ. John’s baptism foreshadowed Jesus’ Baptism. And you are baptized into Christ. John baptized with water, but Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit hidden under the water and the Word. John points you to Jesus and His Baptism, and so also you, as the Baptized children of God, are always pointing others to Jesus and His Baptism. You continue to proclaim the message of St. John the Baptist, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” And you heed this message yourself.

What does it mean to “Make straight the way of the Lord?” It means to repent, to remove the obstacles that prevent Jesus from taking possession of you body and soul. The Lord Himself does this to you through His Word, through the preaching of men like John, Christian pastors who faithfully proclaim to you the whole counsel of God. The Lord Himself fills every valley and makes every mountain and hill low. He makes the crooked straight and the rough places level (cf. Is. 40:4; Luke 3:5). He casts down the mighty from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. He convicts and condemns sinners with His holy Law. He binds up the brokenhearted and repentant with His precious Gospel (Is. 61:1). Making straight the way of the Lord means first of all confessing your sins, acknowledging that there is nothing good or righteous in you, that you have sinned by your own most grievous fault. And that means repenting of the specifics. It means repenting of your envy, your lust, your covetousness, the times you looked at a woman with lustful intent in your heart, the times you envied your friend whose husband was a better family man than your own. It means repenting of your greed, thinking the stock market and the Big Three automakers are what is most important this season, worrying about your own paycheck and portfolio, but turning a cold shoulder to those who have nothing this Christmas. It means repenting of your hidden faults, acknowledging to God and to one another that you have many sins even you are unaware of. It means confessing that you are wholly unworthy of the Christmas gift of God in Jesus Christ, that you confess along with John, “I am not even worthy to stoop down and untie His sandal, not even worthy to be His lowly slave.” But making straight the way of the Lord is also to confess that in spite of all this sin and filth and unworthiness… in fact, because of all this sin and filth and unworthiness, Jesus Christ has come, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

In fact, though John came preaching repentance, he always did so with the forgiveness of sins in view. For that is why Jesus came, and John was always pointing to Jesus. Jesus is the One who clothes you with the garments of salvation and covers you with the robe of righteousness (Is. 61:10). This is what He does in the Gospel. This is what He does in Baptism and in the Lord’s Supper. The Lord makes His own way straight in your hearts and minds. For after He crushes you with His Law and kills you, He raises you and makes you alive with His Gospel, the forgiveness of your sins which He won for you by His sacrificial death on the cross. He lightens the darkness of your hearts by His gracious visitation. He makes you new people, people who rejoice always, who pray without ceasing, who give thanks to God in all circumstances. He makes of you people who do not quench the Spirit or despise His Word, but who test everything and hold fast to what is good, abstaining from every form of evil. That is to say that the Lord keeps you. He keeps you in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. He sanctifies you completely so that your whole spirit, soul, and body are kept blameless at the coming of Jesus Christ. Our Lord is faithful. He will surely do it. He Himself accomplishes this within you. He makes His path straight.

Our gracious God would have all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. And that includes you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ. So God sends His messengers, His witnesses, witnesses like St. John the Baptist. These witnesses call upon us to prepare the way of the Lord and make His paths straight. They preach God’s Word to us. They are always proclaiming Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. For Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. And you, beloved are children of the light, children of the day. You no longer walk in darkness, for the Holy Spirit has enlightened you with His gifts. God keep you ever in that Light, the Light that is Jesus Christ, bringing you to repentance and faith in Christ. And He will do so. He has promised, and He is faithful. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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