Monday, December 24, 2018

Sermon for 12/23/18: Fourth Sunday in Advent

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“I Am Not the Christ”
John 1:19-28

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

400 years had passed since the prophet Malachi delivered the last Old Testament message—400 years of silence. Then came John. No one doubted his status as a prophet. There was something compelling about the man in a camel’s hair coat, eating locusts and honey, crying in the wilderness. He came with a message: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand!” The Pharisees sent the priests, but not to ask about his qualifications or even the orthodoxy of his message. They were not concerned whether his preaching conformed to the prophets before him. They want to know who he is.
His reply is odd. He does not say, “I am John, the miracle of baby of Zechariah and Elizabeth.” He does not say, “I am the forerunner promised through Isaiah,” though he will admit to that later. His immediate response is, “I am not the Christ.” It’s an odd response. He does not answer about who he is, but about who he is not. This matters because John is the greatest of prophets; he understands that nothing else matters except the Christ, and John wants everyone to know without a doubt that John is not the Christ.
His statement is profound. They want to know who he is, and so he tells them. “I am not the Christ. I am not God. I am a sinner. I cannot save myself. I need the Christ. Without Him I am doomed.” He always points to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. John’s humility springs from this devotion and compulsion, this obsession with the Truth. He will only talk about the function of his office, quoting of Isaiah: “I am the voice crying in the wilderness.” He doesn’t want to baptize Jesus; John is not worthy. But he does it, because his Lord Jesus insists. He doesn’t want the honor of Elijah’s name. But Jesus insists, so he gets that, too.
The 400-year silence is broken by this fiery preacher. Even so, the majority ignore him. They plod along in their comfortable lives. They carefully avoid making waves concerning what our Lord teaches. That should sound familiar, because that’s exactly how we live today. We have treated God’s Word and Sacraments lightly. We have taken these gifts for granted. We have tried to fulfill the law for ourselves. We have attempted to appease God’s wrath by our deeds, by our faith. We have held back from speaking the truth when it makes us uncomfortable. And it’s so much worse for us, because we have all the law and the prophets readily available to us. How they would envy us! The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Repent.
Repent, for you are not the Christ. But thanks be to God, for Jesus is! He has given His life as a ransom for yours. He has loved you beyond all telling. And He still does. He unites you to Himself in the Feast laid before you. Be forgiven, renewed, restored, reinvigorated; be at peace. The Passover Lamb has been slain. In His blessed death, your sins died. He now lives again, but your sins were left in the grave. Eat this Lamb, drink His blood, and the angel of death passes over. You are safe.
Who are you? You are not the Christ! What would Jesus do? He would die. What would you do? You would die too, but now you don’t have to, because He did it for you. His office is not yours. His duty is not yours. He has died in your place. Don’t try to do what He would do. You are not Him. Instead, receive His righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. That is the peace the angels announced to the shepherds. It is the peace of not having the burden of the Law. It is the peace of being counted worthy by grace, of belonging to God, of abiding safely in His everlasting grasp. Who are you? You are not the Christ. But thanks be to God, for Jesus is! In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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