Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (B)

December 14, 2014
Text: John 1:6-8, 19-28

            The true Light that enlightens everyone, Jesus Christ, comes into the world now, since His ascension into heaven, by preaching, by proclamation, by witness, by confession.  He comes through the Word.  The Church’s task is to preach Christ crucified for sinners (1 Cor. 1:23), and to distribute the gifts of the risen Christ to His people.  St. John’s prophetic ministry was to prepare the world for Christ’s first coming as Savior.  Now that Jesus has accomplished the work of our salvation, the Church takes up John’s prophetic ministry, preparing the world for our Lord’s coming again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead.  The preparation is vital, for eternal life and death are on the line.  When Christ comes again He will raise up all the dead.  He will give eternal life to all who believe in Him, but He will cast all unbelievers into the everlasting darkness of hell.  So we preach.  Love for the world compels us to proclaim Christ, to confess Him, to bear witness about the Light that is Christ, for the same reason John came to bear witness about the Light: “that all might believe” (John 1:7; ESV), and so be saved.
            St. John is our model in this.  He is always pointing to Christ, never to himself.  His is always the work of preparation.  Jesus is the fulfillment.  “He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me,” John confesses (John 1:15).  “He must increase, but I must decrease,” John proclaims (3:30).  “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4).  It was all to prepare the people for the Lord’s coming.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus, “is at hand” (Matt. 3:2).  The bony finger of St. John is always extended toward his greater cousin, his lips ever proclaiming: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  John is never magnifying himself.  He is always confessing what He is not.  “‘Who are you?’  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’ … ‘Are you Elijah?’ … ‘I am not.’ … ‘Are you the Prophet?’ … ‘No’” (vv. 19-21).  John will not take any of the glory for himself.  No preacher should.  All glory belongs to Christ, and to Christ alone. 
            And so the Church.  We preach Christ crucified.  We do not preach ourselves.  Christianity has fallen into the shameless habit of self-promotion.  Look what a great congregation we are.  Look at how much we do.  Look how at how sincere we are in our love for God and for each other.  We’re friendly.  We’re relevant.  We’re convenient.  We’re fun.  Suddenly the mission becomes not so much preparing the world for the coming Judgment, but saving the institution (the congregation, the Church body) by attracting more customers.  Every one of us is prone to this thinking.  We would love to see our pews filled to capacity.  We would love a healthy bottom line.  But why?  As evidence that more people believe in Christ and have come to receive His gifts?  That is, indeed, what our new man in Christ desires.  But the old sinful flesh desires success by human standards.  The Old Adam wants his church to be the biggest and the best.  So Old Adam preaches himself.  Christ… the real One, from the Bible, anyway… is a little too messy, a little too offensive.  But come to the church and we’ll save you.  We’ll make you into a better you.  Just follow our program.  You’ll see the difference.  You’ll be inspired.  You’ll be a better husband and father, wife and mother.  Trust us.  And so the Church can so easily fall into the trap of preaching herself in place of Christ. 
            The Church that preaches herself is dead.  The Church that preaches Christ crucified lives in her risen Lord.
            Preaching Christ crucified is never popular.  It is never a recipe for success in the eyes of the world.  But it is what the world needs, desperately.  St. John was “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (v. 23).  So the Church cries out in the wilderness of this world, in this place of unbelief and godlessness, of violence and exploitation, of selfishness and materialism.  The Church cries out in a wilderness of darkness and death.  But in its blindness, the world believes itself an oasis of light and life.  Only the Light that is Jesus Christ can open the eyes of the blind and expose the deception in which the devil holds this generation.  What is the Church to cry in this wilderness?  “Make straight the way of the Lord” (v. 23).  Jesus is coming.  Just as He came in the flesh, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, just as He was born that first Christmas to be our Savior, to suffer and die for our sins, to be raised for our justification and life, so He is coming again.  Prepare.  Be prepared by God in the preaching of Christ, by which He comes to you even now.  That is how His way is made straight.  That is how His Light shines in the darkness.  That is how His Life triumphs over death.  John brought the Light by preaching and baptizing.  He was sent by God for this very thing.  The Church brings the Light by preaching and baptizing, by witnessing and confessing, by eating and drinking and so proclaiming the Lord’s death until He comes (1 Cor. 11:26).  The Church is planted in the world for this very thing.  The world is preserved now, in this time of grace, that Church may point to Christ crucified and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin!  Repent, and believe the Gospel.”
            The Church preaches Christ crucified, because the Spirit of the LORD GOD is upon us and has anointed us in Baptism for this very thing (Is. 61:1).  Even as the Spirit descended upon our Lord Jesus and remained on Him at His Baptism in the Jordan, so He remains with us in our Baptism into Christ.  And He opens our lips, that our mouths may declare His praise (Ps. 51:15).  That by this Gospel preaching, Christ Himself bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound (Is. 61:1).  That by this preaching your sins be forgiven.  This is something the Church can never accomplish by preaching herself.  But this preaching of Christ crucified frees the Church to recognize she is not the Savior.  She cannot save anyone.  She cannot save herself.  She cannot even save her institutional structure.  Christ is the Savior.  Christ alone saves.  He saves the Church.  He saves you.  The Church is called to confess with St. John what she is not.  She confesses that she is not the Christ.  She does not take the glory for herself.  Nor should her preachers.  All glory belongs to Christ, and to Christ alone.  He must increase.  We must decrease.  We baptize in the wilderness of this world and proclaim a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  “Repent,” we preach, “for the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus, “is at hand.”  He is coming soon.  He is coming to judge.  So look to Him as Savior now.  The finger of the Church is always pointing to the cross, her lips ever proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”

            John confesses that he is unworthy even to untie the strap of our Lord’s sandal (v. 27).  This was a task so menial, even slaves were excused from performing it.  John confesses himself less than a slave to his Lord Jesus.  There is a certain humility here that should mark the Christian.  It is the language of unworthiness, which is really a confession of sin.  But it is not the language of despair.  For while we are unworthy, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).  The Lamb makes us worthy with His own worthiness.  By His Blood He has ransomed us for God, ransomed a people from every tribe and language and people and nation, and made us a kingdom and priests to our God, who shall reign on the earth in the Last Day (vv. 9-10).  This is the song St. John the Baptist and all the saints in heaven sing before the throne of God.  For they see the Light with their own eyes.  The Light shines on us, too, here in the darkness.  But our eyes are not yet fully open.  We see now as in a mirror dimly.  Then we shall see fully (1 Cor. 13:12).  But we do see.  We see by the eyes of faith given in our Baptism.  We see by the preaching of Christ crucified and risen.  We see with our ears.  The Lord comes.  He speaks.  He feeds us.  We rejoice.  And we cry out in the wilderness of this world: “Make straight the way of the Lord.”  We bear witness to the Light, “that all might believe.”  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             

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