The Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 20, 2015 A+D
St. John 1:19-28
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
On the eve of saving Israel from the sadistic hand of the Egyptians, God sent Moses to deliver them. Yet when he was called, he balked because of his slowness of speech and tongue. So God said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.” (Exodus 4:14-15). So it was that Aaron was the spokesman for Moses, the deliverer (Gerhardt Postilla p. 35).
God would never be without his spokesmen. He raised up a long line of prophets that proclaimed His Word. And through two of them, Isaiah and Malachi, we learn about another. God would raise up one like Aaron of the tribe of Levi. And like as Aaron ran out to meet Moses, God’s chosen deliverer, with gladness in his heart and spoke on Moses’ behalf the words that Moses gave him to say, so John the Baptist, born of the tribe of Levi, went out and joyfully preached and baptized as God gave him words and direction, preparing the way for the Messiah in the spirit of Elijah. He 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.
But just like the children of Israel could have mistakenly thought that the words came from Aaron and not Moses, because Aaron spoke the words that Moses gave him, so too, the people of Israel at the Jordan began to mistake John for the Messiah, because he preached about the Messiah in a way never-before heard–deliverance from their bondage to sin.
It’s no wonder then that the Jewish priests and Levites from Jerusalem had heard these reports of a Messiah preaching and baptizing. 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 the enthusiastic friend of the Bridegroom, waiting for the wedding feast. He was preparing people for this feast by preaching repentance and baptizing them. But he was not the deliverer, he was not the Christ.
This fact comforted John. He did not want to be the deliverer. He was content with being the forerunner and announcer—the spokesman. 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 and especially religion, the temptation is to grasp 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. (There is a point that this is proper and biblical, but sometimes that point is crossed). Pastors preach about the deliverance that the Messiah has brought. This is their vocation. 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.
It may seem strange to you for me to say this, but I think the greater danger today is for people to think that they themselves are the divine. The greatest danger I see today in people, including myself, 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. You always have a good reason for being grouchy with other people. You always have a good reason to speed or drive like a maniac because where you are going is important. There’s always a good reason for you to lie to or cheat someone. But whenever these things happen to you, it’s unacceptable and sinister; 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. Doctors misdiagnose and miss-treat. Policemen abuse the people they are sworn to protect. Teachers have an ulterior motive with their instruction. Politicians are social prostitutes, saying whatever makes them the most money or popularity. CEOs embezzle money and mismanage their companies. Judges pass judgments to fit their personal bias. Religious leaders (to include pastors in your own lives) have abused their authority and some were incompetent or even heretics. We live in a sinful world where sinners sin.
But your knee-jerk reaction to reject all 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 innocent as you like to think. You are not as much a victim of other people’s idiocy as you want to believe. All 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 vocation. You day dream about 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 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 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.
Zechariah, John’s father rightly confessed:
“[God] hath visited and redeemed His people,
He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
the oath which he sware to our father Abraham, that he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.”
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.
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 vanity and pride. From all of your double standards and power plays. 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 doesn’t need you to bring peace out of chaos. 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 always 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 our help and our deliverer. make no tarrying, oh my God.” (Alleluia verse).
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.
The Rev’d Michael N. Frese
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, IN