Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Sermon for December 13-14

The Third Sunday in Advent
December 13-14, 2008
Text: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Dear Friends in Christ,
“Heeeere’s Johnny!” The voice of Ed McMahon, for a generation, informed America that the host of the “Tonight Show” was coming out. McMahon had a hard job, in a sense. He was there to make Johnny Carson look good. He had to set up things for Carson. He was the straight man for Carson’s Karnak the Maginificent routine. Carson would hold up the sealed envelope with the question and give the answer. Then McMahon had to open the envelope and read the question. McMahon often appeared in skits with Carson. He was always setting things up to make Carson look good. Interestingly enough, though Carson, saw himself in a similar light. His job was to make the guests look good. This is why so many people would come on the “Tonight Show” as guests. They knew that they would be treated well. Carson wouldn’t ambush them with something that would embarrass them. So Ed McMahon was there to make Carson look good, and Johnny Carson was there to make the guests look good. The guests were the main people on the show. It’s hard gig, but Carson and McMahon pulled it off beautifully for 29 years.

The most important set up man in the history of the world was not Ed McMahon. It was John the Baptist. When he began to preach in the wilderness in 29 A.D. people didn’t know what to think. They didn’t know who he was, or what he was. For some time now, I’ve tried to imagine what it would have been like to have been the very first person to hear John preach. I wonder if it might have been like this: A man is traveling through the region. The road goes beside some large rock. Suddenly, a voice thunders out from the top of the rocks. “Repent and make straight the way of the Lord.” The man looks up, startled, and sees this strange man standing upon the rocks. The first thing the man probably would note is the hair and the beard. John was a Nazarite from birth, that is under a Nazarite vow. Sampson and Samuel would be examples of men who lived their whole lives under such a vow. Part of this vow is that they would drink no alcohol. Another part of this vow is that they would not cut their hair or beard. Nazarite vows were common enough among the Jewish people, but the normal practice was for a man to be under the vow for a short time. St. Paul was under a Nazarite vow for a time in the book of Acts. A great deal is made of the time when he cuts his hair, thus ending the vow. But John was to be a Nazarite from birth for his whole life. So John would have looked like a wild man indeed.

As we noted last week there had been four hundred years of silence. God had not sent a prophet since time of Malachi and Zechariah, whose ministries would have ended within a few years of each other. Suddenly John appears, preaching prophetically. Now there are two different ways in which one can preach prophetically. One can preach from the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures. In this sense, pastors today preach prophetically, as would the Rabbis of John’s day. The other way of preaching prophetically does not apply to pastors. John preached that his authority and message came from God. He was not relying upon the Scriptures for his authority or his message. He only uses the Scriptures to explain who he is. He shows that his coming was predicted and that it should be seen as a sign from God. What was this sign pointing to? “...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.” What John was saying is you think I’m something? Look out, there is one already among you who so great that not even the greatest of the prophets is worthy tie His shoes. Not even Moses is worthy to His empty his chamber pot.

What an incredible claim! What was John saying. How could someone be that much greater than the prophets? How could one be greater than Moses who spoke with God face to face? How could one be so much greater than Joshua who ordered the sun to stand still? How could one be so much greater than Elijah who called fire from heaven and was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire without dying? The shock value must have been incredible. We need this explained to us. The emissaries from pharisees needed no explanation. They knew exactly what John was claiming.

So what was John claiming? That God, that Yahweh, was among them as a man. The one that spoke the Ten Commandments to the assembled tribes of Israel from the top of Mount Sinai was right there among them. Some in fact think that Jesus was right there hearing this, sitting among the disciples of John.

Those who teach that Jesus is just a man or that Scripture never calls Jesus God, are simply displaying their ignorance. Here is one of many texts that clearly is stating that Jesus is God. If you are the greatest of the prophets, and man is already above the angels, as Scripture states, there isn’t much above you. The only thing above the greatest of the prophets is God Himself, the One who sends the prophets.

But for God to be present is not, in itself, a good thing. God is present everywhere in the sense that He knows all and sees all. But His direct presence is a different thing altogether. There are consequences to His presence. Christ was directly present in Sodom and Gomorrah. Christ was directly present in the flood. Christ was directly present in the plagues sent upon Egypt. His presence brought destruction. Here also is John’s warning. Christ is here and His presence will bring destruction upon those who reject Him. But John’s warning does not tell the whole story. Christ was present in grace. That was why He was shrouded in human flesh. That is why He was hidden. He had not come to earth to destroy, though some would be destroyed by His coming. He had come to save. He was establishing His presence, according His Name, in grace. He was there among them to be a saving presence. So John’s message is one of warning, but also anticipation. For those who see God among them, this would be a time of great joy. All the Scriptures were coming to fruition in that age. All the promises of grace were being fulfilled.

John the Baptist was the set up man for Jesus Christ. As such, he is considered the greatest of the prophets. Christ in fact calls him this. John clearly confessed that he was not the Christ. But he pointed hearers forward. He told them that God was already among them. They needed to prepare their hearts to receive Him. And so also do we need to prepare our hearts. Christ is present here, according to the flesh. Why? Because He has placed His Name upon this place, and upon us His people. He comes to us daily in our baptism. He comes to us in the Body and Blood. He comes to us in His Word. For all this we need to be constantly preparing our hearts by examination of our lives before the commandments and by repentance. For our God is among us. He is among us to save. No we are not worthy. We are far less worthy than John. But He saves us, nonetheless. And that makes preparing our hearts a joy. It is a joy because we know that we have forgiveness and life in our Lord Jesus who is among us.

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