Sunday, December 24, 2017

Sermon: Rorate Coeli (Advent 4) - 2017

24 December 2017

Text: John 1:19-28 (Deut 18:15-19, Phil 4:4-7)

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

There is no certification process for a prophet.  There’s no curriculum or diploma.  There’s no pattern or standard evaluation.  We are told that if a prophet’s words are untrue, he is a false prophet.  In Old Testament Israel, this was punishable by death.

In the days of John the Baptist, however, people claiming to be prophets were a dime a dozen.  The Romans didn’t really care, as long as they paid their taxes.  The Jewish authorities took them in stride.

But John the Baptist was different.

He scared them.  He spoke like one of the Old Testament prophets.  He did not shy away from calling out the rich and powerful.  And he spoke about the coming of the Messiah.

The prophets had been silent for four centuries regarding the promised Savior of Israel, but now, John preached in the desert with urgency, and without regard to the status of his listeners.  He was in a category by himself.

The leaders of the Jews, the “priests and Levites” traveled from Jerusalem to interrogate him.  He made them very uneasy.  “Who are you?” they asked.  Was John claiming to be the Messiah?

To their amazement, “he confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’”

Had John been a huckster or showman or someone suffering from mental health delusions, he would certainly have said “yes.”  Ironically, this seemed to frighten the priests and Levites all the more.  They ask if he is Elijah reincarnated, or perhaps the Prophet that Moses had foretold, this “prophet like [Moses] from among their brothers,” who would speak the Word of God, and who also came with a warning, “whoever will not listen to My words that He shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him.”

Could John be this prophet?  No. He is not.

The priests and Levites are on pins and needles.  “Who are you?  We need to give an answer to those who sent us.  What do you say about yourself?”  These men are clearly frightened.  John is not a megalomaniac.  John is not just another rabble rouser.  Who is this John?  They need to know.

John replies: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”

John speaks the voice of God – that voice that had lain silent for four hundred years.  For John is the last prophet, who urgently preaches repentance, for the kingdom and the King are at hand: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

John is not the one they should fear, but rather the one John speaks of, the Messiah, the Prophet, the Word made flesh, the One who is God incarnate, the one whom John will baptize in the Jordan as the voice of God will declare Him to be the Son, even as the Holy Spirit will appear visibly as the one whom John will prophetically proclaim to be “the Lamb of God.”

John the Baptist sends the uneasy priests and the Levites back to Jerusalem with more questions than answers.  And they must continue to wait.

But their waiting will not be long now.  Jesus of Nazareth, the cousin of John, the one born in Bethlehem and visited by shepherds who saw signs in the sky, is the one whom they seek, the one whom they should worship, the one whom they will crucify.  He is the one who dies for their sins, who offers them salvation by grace as a free gift, who calls them to repent, who preaches the gospel to them.  He is the one whom the prophets foretold and whom John introduced. 

This Jesus is the one who is worshiped by people in every county on the globe, and whose birth will be commemorated by the entire world as today dissipates into evening.  Many people, like the priests and Levites, are afraid and intimidated by God’s Word.  Many deny the Lord’s coming and the Lord’s atonement for the sins of the world.  Many people deny the existence not only of Jesus, but even of sin itself!  There are modern people, who like the priests and Levites, interrogate us and wish to silence our voice, even as they sought to cut off the voice of John by cutting off his head. 

But the Word of God cannot, and will not, be silenced.  We preachers are merely messengers, and while we can individually be silenced, the Voice itself cannot be.  People may plug up their ears and throw stones, but the Voice is heard loud and clear when the Scriptures are read, when the faith is confessed, and when the Gospel is preached.  For the Jesus whom John proclaimed is not just a preacher of words, but the Word Himself.  He is the Word who is God, who was with God, by whom all things were made, and who became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth: the Christ.

Dear friends, we are not only waiting for the celebration of Christmas to begin, we are waiting for the consummation of the Lord’s kingdom to begin.  We are not only waiting to celebrate the infant Jesus, we are also waiting to give ear to John’s voice by the return of the conquering Jesus, coming in glory to restore perfection to a new heaven and new earth, to our new bodies and cleansed souls, to the final disposition of Satan and his demons, and for the final prophecies of the Old and New Testaments to be brought to fruition in Christ for eternity!

So like the children of Israel, we wait for our Messiah, but unlike the priests and the Levites, we do not wait in fear, but rather in expectant joy – a joy that the world celebrates beginning later this day as we collectively call to mind the humble birth of the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the eternal Savior and re-creator of the universe.

Dear friends, while the priests and the Levites were troubled, those whom Jesus healed and forgave, and to whom He proclaimed good news, rejoiced.  And so do we, dear brothers and sisters, for we who have been redeemed by the cross cannot help but “rejoice in the Lord always,” for we celebrate the Christ child’s coming into the world knowing the promise He bears and fulfills: “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  Amen.

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

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