Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sermon: Nativity of St. John the Baptist - 2012

24 June 2012 at Hope Lutheran Church, Bellaire, MI

Text: Luke 1:57-80

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

Just as every Lord’s Day is a mini-Easter, every Lord’s day is also a mini-Christmas.  Indeed, as we Lutherans confess in the Apology of our Augsburg Confession:

“We do not abolish the Mass, but religiously keep and defend it.  Masses are celebrated among us every Lord’s Day and on the other festivals.  The Sacrament is offered to those who wish to use it, after they have been examined and absolved.”

And so even in the middle of summer we are not out of line to wish one another a Merry Christ’s Mass.  For this holy day and holy sacrament that we celebrate today is the celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ, born of Mary, true God and true Man, come to us in Word and Sacrament, in body and blood, in bread and wine.

Dear friends, what a treasure we have!  What a privilege to be here!  What a glorious thing we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and take into our bodies: the Word of the Lord, the body and blood of Christ – for us men and for our salvation!

Indeed, today is yet another celebration of Christmas, of the incarnation of our Lord, of the fulfillment of the hope and yearning of the elderly Zacharias and his formerly barren wife Elizabeth, of the answer to prayers, of the peace and mercy and redemption and love of God for His people, of the fulfillment of the passing millennia as generations awaited the fulfillment of the promise, the victory over the devil, the restoration of life to a people dead in their trespasses, and the vindication of all creation from the devastation of sin.

With the coming of the Lord’s holy cousin John, the man who is the greatest of those born of woman and yet the least in the kingdom, the voice crying in the wilderness prophesied by Isaiah seven centuries before, he who would close out the Old Testament by announcing the coming of Him whose blood is the New Testament – we see everything changing.

The grip of Satan is loosed as the devil is being mortally wounded by our Lord – who was Himself mortally wounded for us and in our place.  The consequences of sin, the debt we can never pay, the damage we can never undo – is paid in full and creation is repaired to its former glory by Him who died and rose again.  The finality of death – the most cruel and final of all enemies of man and beast alike – has been rendered temporary, as the Lord Jesus Christ becomes the first-fruits of the resurrection promised and given to us as a free gift of God’s gracious mercy.

For the Lord laid a burden upon St. John: the vocation of being the forerunner, the herald, the preacher of repentance, and the baptizer of our blessed Lord.  It is a burden that St. John the Baptist would carry faithfully unto death – in spite of his doubts, in spite of his perceived failure, in spite of his shameful execution.  John surrendered his head as a martyr’s testimony to the Head of the Church, the Sacred Head now Wounded, the one who has come to crush the vile serpent’s head, so that we might be members of His body, the Church, the redeemed bride, sinners converted into saints – by the power of the same Word preached by John, his very cousin in the flesh, the Word Made Flesh, the one who comes to us today, dear brothers and sisters.

We sing with Zecharias and with Christians of every age, filled with the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures: “Blessed is the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people.”

He has visited us, dear friends.  He does not leave us to fend for ourselves.  But He visits us in our sinful world in His sinless flesh.  He visits, literally “oversees” or “bishops” us as the Good Shepherd of our souls, leading us safely away from predators and joyfully to the still baptismal waters and green pastures of eternal life.  He redeems us, dying for us that we might live.  Purchasing us from the bondage of sin – “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”

“And (He) has raised up for us,” continues St. Zacharias, “a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David.  As He spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets, who have been since the world began, that we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us.”

Dear friends, we have all this – right here and right now!  We have heard the Lord speak to us through His appointed minister!  Our sins have been forgiven!  We have heard the good news placed into our ears through the reading of the Lord’s most precious and most holy Word!  And, dear brothers and sisters, we are about to partake of the very body and blood of our dear Lord, the true fountain of youth, the antidote to death, the medicine of immortality, the physical communion between us poor miserable, but forgiven sinners, and our almighty and infinite, but merciful and present, God.

“How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

For John the Baptist came in his own flesh to proclaim the coming of the Son of God in the flesh.  He has come into time and space, to a specific place, and He continues to seek us out where we may be found, dear friends.  He meets us here, in the house of God and at the gate of heaven.  He comes here and now to be with us, to save us, to redeem us, to forgive us, and to give us everlasting life.  This is what John proclaimed, this is what we proclaim, and this is what the Church will proclaim until the Lord’s return.

For the Lord came into time and space “to perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham.”

What a glorious thing, dear friends, that we are privileged to hear this anew, to yet again commune with our Lord, the same Lord born of Mary and baptized by John, the same Lord who died in His body and blood on the cross and who rose in His body and blood from the empty tomb.  This is what we receive in this Word and Sacrament: “To grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life.”

Dear friends, we have been delivered from our enemies: those in this world who seek our pain and destruction, as well as those in realms unseen that wage relentless war to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  We shall serve the Lord without fear, without the fear of our sins, without fear of rejection, without fear that we must rely on our own goodness to save us.  For we have been granted “holiness and righteousness before Him all the days of our life” – for we too have heard St. John’s sermon: “repent!” and we have been given the gift of the baptizer, being baptized into Christ’s death, even as we have been given this gift for “all the days of our life.”

And, dear brothers and sisters, with our enemies defeated, our sins atoned for, our death undone, and our sinful and broken world renewed and restored, the promise that this is for “all the days of our life” takes on new meaning.  It means without sin, without sorrow, without regret, without pain, and without death – and without end!

This, dear friends, is why John was born: “to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God, with which the Dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 

We praise You for the Baptist,
Forerunner of the Word,
Our true Elijah making
A highway for the Lord.
The last and greatest prophet,
He saw the dawning ray
Of light that grows in splendor
Until the perfect day.


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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