Hark! A Thrilling Voice Is Sounding
Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What is a “thrilling voice?” Could the writer of our text be thinking of someone like Elvis Presley? After all, his singing is so distinct that hearers swooned at the first word. Could it be James Earl Jones? His vocal depiction of Darth Vader in the Star Wars movies could move the heart to terror. Or maybe it’s Winston Churchill, who roused a nation to bravery and hope in the midst of constant bombing during World War II. These are all distinctive voices that thrilled the minds and hearts of those who heard them. But in this particular instance, the “thrilling voice” is John the Baptist—and more than John himself, the “thrilling voice” is the message he was sent to proclaim.
“Christ is near,” we hear it say.
“Cast away the works of darkness,
All you children of the day!”
Startled at the solemn warning,
Let the earthbound soul arise;
Christ, its sun, all sloth dispelling,
Shines upon the morning skies.
John the Baptist is the one Isaiah foretold: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill brought low; the crooked places shall be made straight and the rough places smooth; the glory of the Lord shall be revealed…” And it wasn’t just Isaiah. John’s own father, the priest Zechariah, also foretold the role John would play. “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins…” Even before John was born, he faithfully performed the task for which he was sent, leaping in his mother’s womb to be in the presence of God in flesh in the person of Jesus. “Christ is near,” indeed! And in the wilderness, John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins—in essence, John was saying, “Cast away the works of darkness!” When the people questioned why he was baptizing and preaching, John said, “One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” Always John pointed not to himself, but to Jesus. He knew what his role was to be, and he played that role to perfection.
Who, then, are the “children of the day” who hear this voice? You are the children of the day. You are the ones who have received John’s message, and it falls to you to heed and obey the message of the prophet. Turn away from the works of darkness. Turn away from your Old Adam and his selfish, sinful ways. “Repent,” John says. After all, if the week before Christmas, when Christmas is near, is one of the busiest shipping and shopping weeks of the year, shouldn’t we also, when “Christ is near,” be busy in repentance? Our faith in these days should be busy in good works. Our faith in these days should be busy listening to the Word of God from the messenger God has sent to proclaim it to us. The message of Christ, “all sloth dispelling,” moves us to faithful action. Sometimes that means we will do the good works, the fruit of faith; sometimes that means we will sit at our Lord’s feet with Mary and listen to the “one thing needful.”
Comes with pardon down from heav’n.
Let us haste, with tears of sorrow,
One and all, to be forgiv’n;
So, when next He comes in glory
And the world is wrapped in fear,
He will shield us with His mercy
And with words of love draw near.
It was John’s task to point to Jesus. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Jesus had come to be that Lamb, to go to the cross as the Ransom Price of sinners. He came to take the sin of the world and put it all on Himself, to bear its shame and punishment and condemnation. And that’s why John cried out in the wilderness: God sent John to draw all people to Jesus, so that, while “the world is wrapped in fear,” we, still sinners but redeemed in the blood of the Lamb, would “haste, with tears of sorrow, one and all, to be forgiv’n.”
The Day is coming when Christ will appear in glory to judge the living and the dead. But for us, the sheep of His flock, washed in His blood, He will shield us with His mercy, and with words of love draw near. The work of salvation, applied to us in Holy Baptism, will be completed in us as we arise, purified and perfected. There is no fear for those whose sins are forgiven. His voice will be one not of condemnation, but of love: “a thrilling voice,” calling us to our heavenly home, where we will sing with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven:
To the Father and the Son
With the everlasting Spirit
While eternal ages run!
In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always. Amen.