The Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 24, 2017 A+D (reworked from 2015)
St. John 1:19-28
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God is never without his spokesmen. In the beginning He spoke creation into being, then He raised up a long line of patriarchs and prophets that proclaimed His Word. And through two of them, Isaiah and Malachi, we learn about another. God would raise up one like Elijah from the tribe of Levi. John the Baptist would be the last of the Old Testament prophets. No more would they look forward to the coming Messiah, but rather they would look upon the Messiah whom John would point out.
The Jews did not miss this connection. Rumors were flying. It’s no wonder then that the Priests and Levites heard reports from Jerusalem about John preaching and baptizing. This was a big deal. When they came and questioned John, it afforded the forerunner a chance to confess the truth about himself and about the one on whose behalf he spoke. He was not the Christ. He was the voice crying out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Is. 40:3). He was preparing people by preaching repentance and baptizing them. But he was not the deliverer, he was not the Christ.
John accepted this fact. He did not presume to be the deliverer. He was content with being the forerunner and announcer—the spokesman. He did not make a power play for authority that was not given to him. Pastors would do well to remember John’s words. “I am not the Christ.” In all helping professions and positions of leadership, be it in business or politics, but especially religion, the temptation is to seize more power and authority than what rightly belongs to you. Pastors are tempted toward this because people hold them in high regard for bringing them the Gospel. Pastors preach about the deliverance that the Messiah has brought. This is their vocation. They are sent to do this. And in the history of the Christian Church there were instances when pastors took more credit for the message than was salutary. That’s still a temptation today, but I don’t think people today are in as great a danger of thinking their pastors to be the divine as they once were.
This probably won’t shock you, but I think the greater danger today is for people to think more of themselves and their ideas than is fitting. This isn’t a new way of sinning, but it is sin. The greatest danger I see today in people is assuming personal authority for right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Each person feels himself alone worthy to judge what is right by personal feelings and subjective circumstances instead of external, objective facts based upon God’s Word. Just think. There always seems to be a good reason for being impatient with other people. There always seems to be a good reason to lie to or cheat someone. There is always pressure to shirk your God-given vocations and prioritize others. But whenever someone does these things to you, it’s unacceptable and sinister—You cry foul and the world needs to stop and recognize that you were wronged.
We’ve been let down so many times by the supposed authorities in this world, that we’ve become overly critical and pessimistic of all authority. Some doctors misdiagnose and miss-treat. Some policemen abuse the people they are sworn to protect. Some politicians seem to look after their own interests, saying whatever makes them the most money or serves their re-election. Powerful people abuse their positions and take advantage of the people around them. Some husbands and wives, mothers and fathers, spurn their duties. Religious leaders have abused their authority, and some are incompetent or even hold heretical views. We live in a sinful world where sinners sin.
But your knee-jerk reaction to reject authority and to do what you think is right in your own eyes is a sinful over-reaction. You are not the Christ. You are not God in the flesh. You are not a redeemer or deliverer. Your motives are not as pure as you like to think. You are not as much a victim of other people’s lunacy as you want to believe. Too often, you are not satisfied with being who God made you to be. You are not satisfied to live where God has planted you. You despise your vocations as husband or wife, parent or child. You daydream about or even pursue things God has not given you. Repent. You would do well to think and speak like John the Baptist. “I am not the Christ. I will not accept praise and glory for things that belong only to God. I will be content in giving praise and glory to Him alone who is the true God and my true redeemer. I am unworthy to stoop and untie His sandals. I have not deserved His love or mercy. I have not loved those around me as I should. I have acted selfishly with my time and with my possessions.”
And oddly enough there is a relief in this confession. “I am not the Christ.” You are not tasked with saving yourself, others, or the world. You are not responsible for justifying what God does and doesn’t do, what does and doesn’t happen. You’re not responsible for explaining why some people believe and others don’t. You are not responsible for beating back the devil and overcoming the world. God has taken that responsibility squarely upon Himself. He was the one, who from the beginning had a plan for your salvation and took sole responsibility for bringing it to fruition. He was the one that gave voice to His gospel throughout history, and made sure the Church survived even when the devil, the world, and evil men tried to snuff it out.
“[God] hath visited and redeemed His people”
Take comfort in the fact that you are not responsible for your own salvation. You would never have envisioned a redemption that involved God becoming flesh and dwelling among you; that involved God suffering and dying on the cross for the salvation of the world; that involved granting deliverance from death to all people. You would never have envisioned water washing you clean of all your sins or bread and wine becoming Christ’s body and blood. You would never have envisioned that God would put His word of Absolution in a man’s mouth to forgive your sins. But that is exactly what He has done—all for you.
There is something freeing and satisfying in letting God be God and being content to believe what He says. You are not the Christ, but there is a Christ. The Son of God has redeemed you from all of your self-centeredness and pride. From all of your double standards and betrayals, from all of your selfish ambitions and stinginess. He doesn’t need you to be the Christ. He has already accomplished your salvation once and for all. He has overcome the world and has promised to come again. He has promised to protect you from the devil, the world, and even yourself. He has promised to sustain you along the way by washing away your sins and feeding you with the bread of heaven. He has promised to provide you a spokesman to preach His Word. He has promised to come again in glory to bring you safely into the Promised Land. That’s what John confessed and did not deny. And by the grace of God, that will be your confession until the day that He takes you to be with Him. “He is your help and your deliverer. Make no tarrying, oh God.” (Alleluia verse).
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.