Advent 4 – John 1:19-28 – December 17th and 18th, 2016
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
So why? Why is there such a focus on who John is? In our Gospel lesson you have folks come from Jerusalem to basically sort out John, who has been out there at the Jordan preaching and baptizing, and the first question they ask is “Who are you?” Not what are you preaching, not why do we need to repent, not why do you think the Kingdom of God is at hand – but who are you? Oh, and by the way, do you remember your bible history? Who is John? Well, his dad was Zachariah, a priest. An important one. Mom was aged Elizabeth, giving birth when she was really, really old. All these hoity-toity priests and Levites from Jerusalem asking John this – they saw him grow up. He was one of them. And yet – who are you?
[John] confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” John doesn't answer the question. John doesn't answer it because they asked the wrong question. You blooming idiots, you know who I am. I played with you when we were kids – and your bosses were friends with my dad. But here's the problem, you folks are so self-important, so focused on your own positions and prestige that you can't even think straight anymore. Who I am isn't the important question – the important question is this: Is the Christ here yet? Is the Christ here yet, since I am out here preaching about the Kingdom of God being at hand. And that is the question I will answer – and the answer is not yet. The Kingdom is coming, but it's not here yet – I am not the Christ. Do you see what John is saying – I'm not important, the Christ is. That's who you should be looking for!
But, they don't get it. They aren't worried about Messiahs who aren't here yet – they just want to know who this fellow who is causing a ruckus thinks he is. And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Do you hear the consternation in John's voice? You've missed the point, people. The point isn't me – the Messiah is coming. If the Messiah is coming, then why would we be wasting time looking at me? But they still go on. So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” Listen, John, now you are causing us problems. If you don't tell us something and we head back, we'll get in all sorts of trouble. So just tell us, what do you say about yourself? About yourself. Did you catch it – surely you talk about yourself at some point, you brag about who you are, you throw your authority around and make people kowtow to you, right? Because that's what our sinful flesh likes to do – we like to establish a pecking order, we like to assert our place in their heirarchy – you're the alpha here, John – how do you assert your dominance?
But still, John will have none of it. He doesn't answer their question. He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straight the way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said.” I don't say anything about myself. That's not my point, not my task. Now, Isaiah said something about me – if you want a title – there you go. I'm just a voice out in the wilderness. I've got no authority of my own, no rule of my own. I'm not going to try to take over Jerusalem or shake up temple politics. Your bosses are all safe in their cushy little jobs – but they too, and you, ought to be getting ready because the Messiah is coming, and we all ought to be focused upon Him.
Let us pause here for a moment. John teaches us a very important, yet unpopular lesson. It's not about me. And it's not about you. It's not about us. The Church – it doesn't revolve around us. It's not about our wants or whims or likes. It's not about who we are – what we get to say about ourselves. And before you just nod and say, “Yes, pastor, we know that” - let's consider this. How often do we get upset because something at the Church doesn't get done precisely the way we want? Or the thing I wanted done gets put on the back burner? Or I don't like how this was done? Nine times out of 10, when something goes sideways in Church and a nasty fight breaks out, it happens because “I” didn't get My way, and I'm going to cause a stink till I get it, or I'm going to take my ball and go where I'm appreciated. This is the temptation that we face, that we've seen and lived before, and that Satan will smack us with again. Be on guard against it. Church isn't about you. And in fact, any one of us in this room could get our knickers in a bunch and leave in a huff – and the Church would go on just fine without us – me included in that. The person we'd really hurt is ourselves. Nor is the Church the place we talk about who we are and what we do – see how great and good I am? It's not a place where we get to brag about how great we are – what wonderful snowflakes we are and let's get all patted on the back. Now, don't get mad at me, you're all wonderful, beautiful snowflakes (or maybe pelts of sleet), but again, that's not the point. It's not about us.
Because, you see, and this is what John is driving at – this church, religion, Jesus, Messiah thing – it's not about you. It's about Christ Jesus who comes for you. This is the place where we are focused upon not the desires of our hearts, but God's gracious desire to bring us salvation. This is the place where we are focused not upon what we do, but upon what God has done to win us salvation. Next Sunday, Christmas day – the sermon's not going to be about all the great gifts you give – but what Christ is doing. In fact, every service here, Saturday, Sunday, midweek, whatever – is a time where what Christ is doing for us is declared. And Christ's action, Christ's birth and death and resurrection – they don't rely upon us at all. Not about us. Whether you had a good week or bad – whether you showed great patience this past week or whether you went off on rants at the drop of a hat – doesn't change what Christ has done. And He's done it for you, for your good, so that you are redeemed and forgiven.
Back to the text. These messengers from Jerusalem just can't get it, can't wrap their heads around things being about the Messiah, not about me as an individual. They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet.” Where do you get off doing this, John? Surely it has to be about you, there has to be some merit or quality in you that lets you be the fellow doing all this preaching and baptizing, right? Do you hear the ego at play in the question – the assumption that if you are given a task by God, it really is speaking to how great and good you are. My friends, our sinful flesh can be so prideful. Even as John is pointing them again and again to Christ, they want it to be about an ego trip. So John answers again. John answered them, “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.” It's not about how great I am – even what I'm doing is as nothing. I'm worthy of not a single thing – but the Christ is coming – He's here, He's ready to reveal Himself – and He's the One we should be focused upon. He's the One who is going to do it all.
Oh that we would learn this. Oh that we would learn to see that it really is Christ at work, that it really is all about Jesus – that Paul was right when he said “It is not I who live but Christ who lives within me.” That like John later on, we would say that we must decrease that Christ would increase. You see, to view the world through the eyes of faith is more and more to see that Christ Jesus is the One at work, doing good for you and through you. And so often we don't see this – so often we get so wrapped up in ourselves and our own sin that the thoughts, the approach we take is so self-focused and self-important. What does this mean to me, how will this effect me, here's my thoughts about what's going on. Me, me, me, me, me – it sounds like we're warming up for a really selfish choir. And especially as we are busy and stressed more and more we turn in, curve in on ourselves. But behold, even in the midst of this selfish darkness, Christ Jesus comes. It really is about Him – the Light of Light, very God of very God, who comes down from heaven for us – not about us, but for us and for our salvation. Christ Jesus comes – behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He comes even to us today, comes and pulls our eyes off of our own ego, off of all our sinful hang-ups – and He says to us, Peace be with you, always.
As we move into our final week of Christmas preparations – remember who Christ Jesus actually is. He is God almighty who becomes man and does everything required for your salvation. He is the God who joined Himself to you in Holy Baptism and is with you always – working in you and through you for the good of the people He has placed in your life, even with or without you being aware of it. He has poured His Holy Spirit upon you, so that you are daily and richly forgiven, daily and repeatedly pulled away from your selfishness and made to see, made to understand a bit, a glimpse of what He has done and is doing for you. Now, we see dimly, as in a mirror. Soon, we will see face to face, and marvel at who Christ Jesus for all eternity. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +