In which I am a mean, cruel pastor who tells people to show up to church on Tuesday.
Advent 4 – John 1:19-28 – December 23rd, 2007
In the Name of Christ Jesus our Advent King +
Why are bothering us, John? Here you are, out in the wilderness, preaching and baptizing – causing a fuss that even we back in Jerusalem get pestered about. Why are you bothering us, John? What’s the big deal? We know that we are creatures of habit – that we like our things the way we like them, and we generally like them to stay that way. The people in Jesus’ day were no different. They had their routines, the things that they were comfortable with – and then in comes John. John looks like a wildman, camel skin clothing, lives out in the desert – doesn’t quite fit in the established sensibilities of the day – he is the proverbial sore thumb. And John preaches repentance – repent, turn away from what you’ve been doing – repent and prepare for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
So, the folks in Jerusalem send some people out to check out this John. He’s making waves – go see why He’s making them. These folk ask John, “Who are you?” That’s the question. Who are you that you think you need to make such a ruckus, that you need to disturb our comfortable lives? John says straight off – Oh, I’m not the Christ. No, I’m not Him, that’s not who I am. And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Think on how frustrated these people from Jerusalem would have been by now – John’s being difficult – and more over, he’s a nobody – and even claims it. Remember, there were false prophets all the time – people who would claim to be Elijah returned, or even claim to be the Messiah. Those people were easy to deal with – you can discredit a guy who claims to be Elijah, you can topple a false Messiah – but when the guy doesn’t claim to be anything – how do you knock him down? So finally, these people ask, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” They press him hard – if John makes a claim about himself, if he claims to be someone big and important – he can be knocked down. John doesn’t though – he doesn’t claim to be anyone important – he’s just a voice – “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” John’s just the voice – the voice of one, of somebody – could be anyone, just happens to be John – the voice preparing and making straight the way of the Lord. Well then, John, if you are a nobody, why do you baptize – why the commotion? I baptize you 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 me – it’s about the one who is coming – the Messiah, and you need to get ready.
We know the story. This is familiar. So let me ask a question. Why did the people of Israel need to get ready? Not how, not what should they do in order to get ready – but why would they need to be told to get ready in the first place? These are the people of Israel – God’s covenanted people. They have the Law, the Prophets, the Temple – all the things pointing to the coming Messiah – of all the people in the world they should have been ready – they should have been prepared to meet the Messiah with open arms! And they weren’t. They weren’t even ready to deal with someone preaching that the Messiah would be coming. Why weren’t the people of Israel already prepared for the Messiah’s coming?
You see, what John does, and this is what is so annoying to the folks in Jerusalem, is he breaks up their routine. He shakes things up – he says that the way in which you’ve been doing stuff – it’s not perfect. It’s not right. It needs work. That’s what repentance means – it means to turn, to re – pent, or re –orient, re-direct yourself. You were going this way, now you need to be going that way. There needs to be a change because something you were doing wasn’t right. You are stuck in a rut, and it’s a bad one – get out of it. Your habits have become bad – and so you don’t even see what is going on – Repent, for the Lord is coming. Your daily lives are filled with wickedness, and you don’t bat an eye. Repent. You live your life day after day, not even acknowledging that the Messiah will come – Repent. Get ready, for He is coming. John breaks up their routine because their routine was misfocused, looking at the wrong things.
So, as we hear this text this morning, we too are preparing for the coming of the Lord, so let us think – how does John’s preaching apply to us? Let us think about our routines – are they good or bad? Now, don’t fear, I’m not going to go off on some we need to change everything, throw out the baby with the bathwater, it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it is new rant. That’s not the point. Many habits, many routines are good. I would hope that you routinely say please and thank you. I would hope that you routinely come to Church, hear God’s Word, receive His Supper. I would hope that you would routinely show love to your friends and neighbors – where they aren’t surprised when you show an act of kindness. No, there are good routines – they help shape our lives. But there are also bad routines, bad habits.
This morning, I’d like you to think for a bit, think about what your bad habits are. We all have them – things that we know we shouldn’t do, but we do anyway, and oh well. Have you ever thought about how horrible and unchristian a way of thinking that is? Oh, that’s just a bad habit I have. If it’s bad, why do we put up with it in our lives? If it’s bad, why do we just shrug it off? You see, it is easy to fall into ruts, into bad habits. We make excuses for ourselves, and we just mire and mire deeper and deeper. We fall into bad routines – oh, well I just won’t do this anymore. Oh, they don’t mind if I’m a bit coarse or rude. Oh, well, you know, there are other things to do. And suddenly, you’re stuck. Suddenly, instead of being kind, you are rude. Instead of being diligent in your study of God’s Word – you never crack open a bible during the week. And things just sort of slide away.
Now, this is a danger all the time – we always can fall into bad habits and bad routines. So why do we hear this this week – right before Christmas time? Probably because it is highly appropriate. You know, the Jews that John was so upsetting – they above all people should have been ready for the Messiah. Likewise, you, dear friends, above all people in the world should be ready to celebrate Christmas properly. You may even have signs or shirts that say, “Jesus is the reason for the season.” Let me ask the hard question. When I say the word “Christmas” – what do you think of? Family? Presents under a tree? Parties and Caroling? Or maybe you even think of a little manger somewhere? Christmas is the time where we gather together, where the Church has a service which focuses on and celebrates the fact, the mystery that God becomes Man for our salvation. That’s what we should think of, first and foremost – hearing the Word, coming to His House for His Supper. And most of the time, that isn’t what we think of – there is so much else to do, there are so many other things going on – so many other routines – that even while wearing our “Jesus is the Reason” shirts we can push worship off into a corner. Hits even me. This is a busy time – lots of services and sermons to write – and I’ve sick and slow, haven’t gotten things done ahead of time like I like to. It’s sad, but I thought about it, and the fact that my shopping wasn’t done was a bit more stressful than the idea that I still had sermons and services to prepare – and that’s sad. But that is what can happen to all of us this time of year – there are so many things, so many routines that we have, things that we just know that we need to get done – and our focus isn’t where it should be – and we are stuck in the mire of all the things going on.
Dear friends – pause and repent – turn and look and ponder Christ Jesus and what He has done for you – for He is indeed the cure for our woes, the way to get out of our ruts. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. As Christians, our strength comes not from ourselves, but from Christ Jesus – and when He draw us to Himself – not only are we forgiven, but we are made anew – by His strength those rough patches are beaten down. We see our sin and turn away from it. We see things spiraling off – and the look to Christ and regain a right focus. The Chief place this is done in the worship service. Paul says prayer, supplication with thanksgiving. How does our communion liturgy go? Prayer – Supper – and then the thanksgiving. That’s the way it’s been done since the beginning of the Church, and there’s a reason for that. We need to repent – and we need the strength to repent. We need God to be with us, so that we are enabled to fend off Satan and show love like we ought. In fact, this is why Jesus became Man, why there was the first Christmas. Jesus in His Body wins the victory over Satan for us. In fact, this is why Jesus comes to us even to this day in His Supper – for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith towards God and to give us love for one another. This is the gift that God gives us.
The people of Israel had developed some bad routines, got into bad habits – and John calls them on it. Get ready, for the Lord is coming. Repent. Dear friends, I encourage you likewise – examine yourselves and repent of your sin – for the mystery of Christmas is a reality – Christ is coming – He shall come again on the Last Day – but in the meantime – He comes to you Here in His Word, in His Supper. Make diligent use of His gifts to you, and join us Tuesday morning, or if you are traveling, join in with the faithful at one of our sister congregations, because that is indeed joining us here as well, that is what Communion does, angels, archangels, all the company of heaven – and the whole Church on earth, but wherever you are join in on the true celebration of our Lord’s Birth by worshipping Him, and receiving His very Body for your forgiveness. This is what you need to be prepared for Him. This is what He offers you. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, Come quickly. Amen.