+ Third Sunday of Advent – December 11, 2011 +
Isaiah 61, John 1:6-8, 19-28
In the Name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
He’s back. That’s right. You thought you could get rid of him after last Sunday. But here he is again with his one-tracked message, repeating like a broken record: “a voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare. Repent. Make Straight. Jesus is coming.”
John seems to keep hanging around like one of those annoying people, you know the type – all they want to do is talk about themselves: enough about you, let’s talk about me - Wait. What? John doesn’t want to talk about himself? The nerve of this guy...Who do you think you are, John?
“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness; make straight the way of the Lord.”
Now that you’ve had a week to think about John’s Advent message. What do you think of him? His message? Would you have him over for dinner? Sit next to him at church? Friend him on Facebook?
Truth be told, John makes you uncomfortable doesn’t he?
Of all the messianic messenger “tricks up His sleeves,” God doesn’t use a dream, a vision or an angel…just a man – or rather, a voice; how uncivilized. There’s John with locust legs stuck between his teeth. Disheveled hair. And his wardrobe! Someone tell this camel-hair-clad, leather-belted, crusty desert preacher what not to wear. He’s the kind of guy you make apologies for when he shows up in the Sunday readings: “Oh yes, John the Baptizer, he’s a little…well, you know…different.”
Why does John make you uncomfortable? Be honest. It’s not the diet. The hair. Or the clothes. It’s that he has nothing to say about himself. John only wants to talk about Jesus. While we’d rather talk about ourselves. Whether we admit it or not – that’s the ugly truth. Sure, we’re good at pretending in public. But we’re phonies. Hypocrites. When we’re not busy talking about, thinking about or acting for ourselves –we’re busy comparing ourselves to others…much like, I am sure, the Pharisees were doing as they were talking with John in the wilderness.
Not only does John makes us uncomfortable…he calls us to do the very thing we hate to do, the very thing we are unable to do: to turn away from ourselves.
Who are you, John? “I am not the Christ.” Are you Elijah? “No.” “Are you the Prophet?” “No.” “Who are you? What do you say about yourself?”
John has nothing to say about himself. He is a voice. Yahweh’s mouth-piece. It’s not about John; it’s about Jesus. So the prophet Isaiah speaks for him: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”
Christ is the Word. John is the voice. The advent man, preparing you for the Coming One. Repent. Make Straight. Jesus is coming. John fits the definition of what most psychiatrists call a monomaniac – someone with an excessive interest and an irrational obsession with one subject: yes that’s John, a monomaniac about Christ. He’s content simply to announce the coming of the Lamb of God.
“I baptize with water. But among you stands One whom you do not know. It is he who is coming after me, who is before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.” John is called the Baptizer, but even his name is greater than he is. John knows it too, “I baptize with water..but He baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” Christ is the real baptizer. He’s doing all the work – for John and for you. Oh yes, John pours the water. But Christ is the one Baptizing, pouring out the Holy Spirit in the water through the Word. John is just the voice. The hand.
It was the same for you at your Baptism. The pastor is God’s hand. God’s voice. Jesus is doing the real saving work. Jesus is in the water. He’s your life. You see, it’s not about John or you or me. It’s about Jesus for you.
That’s why John calls us out to the wilderness. That’s what got the Pharisees all riled up. John leaves no stone unturned out in the wilderness, including the one we try to hide our sins under. John points us to Christ and calls us to leave behind the devil’s lies. Leave behind your false humility. Leave behind our obsession and excessive interest is ourselves. John’s repentance calls us outside of ourselves to Christ.
John uses God’s Law like sandpaper, laying us bare. In the wilderness we’re open to the elements. Exposed. Uncovered. Naked. Left for Dead.
But you are not alone in the wilderness. John calls us out of our death into life in Christ. Jesus goes out into the wilderness before you – on your behalf - the perfect scapegoat foretold in the Old Testament; He bears your humanity and He bears your sin. Jesus is everything that you – and John – are not. We must decrease. He must increase.
This is the One who caused John to leap for joy in Elizabeth’s womb and still causes infants to leap for joy in the font; the womb of the Church. Because even though John was born before Jesus; John knows what we celebrate at Christmas…Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the Word through whom John and you and I and all things are made.
Just look at what this One has come to do. He came not to be served, not even to have his sandals latched…but to serve us and to give His life as a ransom for many, for all, for you. This One whose sandals John was not worthy to untie stoops down to wash his disciple’s feet in humility the night before his own feet are pierced in death on the cross. Behold the Lamb of God. For we who think only of ourselves, He died thinking only of others. For we who live selfishly; He lived and died selflessly, for you. He takes our false humility and suffers our humiliation. He takes our shame and wraps Himself in it. He takes our guilt, our sin, our death and makes them His own.
He whose sandals we are not worthy to untie, stoops down to wash you with his own blood and water.
That is why, during the season of Advent, Jesus sends John again and again, to call you out to the barren desert, where your only life is found in the water.
That’s John’s sole purpose: to get you to the river. And once he’s got you in the water, he’s done his job. Because John’s identity is all wrapped up in Baptism and so is yours.
For there in the oasis of the font stands Christ: Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. The font is your River Jordan where all of Jesus’ promises are yours and all your sin is His.
Behold the Lamb of God who pours a river of life into the desert of your sinful flesh, drowning your sin in flood of forgiveness. There, your conscience which burns with the heat of guilt finds the soothing coolness of sins forgiven. There, your sinful heart cracked under the Law’s blazing sun finds rest in the shadow of Christ Crucified.
There in the desert Christ prepares a highway for Himself paved by the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus came to do… bring life in the desert…bind up your broken-hearts, release you from captivity, proclaim good news for you who were poor are now made rich in Christ.
And now, we go where John goes: Wherever Jesus calls us. To the wilderness for Repentance. To Font for forgiveness. To the Table for healing in Jesus’ body and blood…We, like John, now point to The Water. To the bread and wine declaring: “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away my sin.”
For in these last days. These Advent days. The church is John the Baptizer, calling sinners to repentance and baptism, preparing the way of the Lord in advance of His second advent in glory. You too are witnesses to the Light who shines upon you. It’s not about you, or me…it’s about Jesus. You too are a voice in this dark wilderness, calling to a world that needs so desperately to hear. “The Lord is near. Prepare His way. Repent. Make Straight. Jesus is coming. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away your sin.” Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.
In the Name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.