Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent 4 a few days late

Um... forgot to post this. . .

Advent 4 – December 19th, 2010

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
One last Sunday in Advent, one final week to go before Christmas arrives. One last week of last minute preparations and shopping trips and this and that. And on this Sunday morning, to bring our Spiritual preparations into focus, we travel with the people of Jerusalem, both the repentant faithful and the callous skeptics out into the wilderness by the Jordan, and there we behold John the Baptist. There you have John, out in the wilderness, calling people away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives, crying out, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Calling out for people to repent, to turn away from their sin, from their greed and anger and hatred and lust and disdain. Now, understandably, John’s preaching caused a bit of a stir. These people were waiting, were hoping, were expecting the Messiah to arrive at any time – and then you have John, out in the desert preaching like one of the Prophets of old. So some of the priests, some of the Levites – perhaps even relatives of John, whose father was a priest, come out and ask John, “Who are you?” Who are you John, what are you doing out here?

And right off the bat, we hear this: “[John] confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, ‘I am not the Christ.’” This is interesting. It doesn’t seem surprising that John would say that he isn’t the Christ – but note the focus our Gospel lesson puts on it. He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed. Do you hear the emphasis? Why such emphasis on this idea of “confessing”? Because, dear friends, like John the Baptist, we too as Christians are called upon to confess Christ, to point others to Him. We are not to deny Christ. And this situation with John shows us a common way in which Satan can try to tempt us to end up denying Christ. There you have John, and people are flocking to him, important people are paying attention. It would be so easy for John to get a big head, to start pointing to himself. I mean, this would be really easy with John – John’s able to point to passages in Isaiah and say – see here, this is me. He’ll do that eventually after people keep pressing him – but no, that’s not first and foremost on John’s mind. No, John isn’t worried so much that people understand him, know him – rather, his goal is to point to Christ. Right off the bat – I’m not the Christ, people – we’ve got another one that we are to be looking for. John does not deny Christ by taking glory to himself, he doesn’t deny Christ by seeking his own attention and glory – rather, first and foremost, John is concerned with confessing Christ so that others might see and know the Lord and His salvation as well. Even when they keep pressing him – are you Elijah, are you the Prophet? Are you someone cool and awesome – John ends up replying simply – No. Finally, when they demand an answer, something they can tell the big wigs in Jerusalem, John says, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.’” When it boils down to it – I’m not important – I’m just a voice, just a tool pointing to the One who is to come. You should be seeking Him.

This humble focus and pointing to Christ is something we need to learn and emulate today. Americans are glory-hounds. We are. Our news is dominated by celebrity – by “celebrated persons” – that’s where we get that term celebrity. We have people who are famous apparently for nothing other than being famous. The TV is full of “reality” TV shows where people can get their 15 minutes of fame, or where if someone is lucky enough they can become an idol for the whole nation. Or even closer to home – how many awards do we give out. Awards for this, for that – multiple trophy shops are up and running in Enid – and if you are a kid, well you’ve just got to get at least a ribbon. We are so used, so focused upon getting awards and recognition that we almost don’t know how to act without anyone patting us on the back and telling us how good we are. We thrive on encouragement and recognition. Now – encouragement and recognition isn’t a bad thing – encourage one another, it’s good to do so. But here is the danger – as Americans we are so used to the focus being placed upon us, so used to people taking note of what we do and then rewarding us accordingly that we end up being easily tempted towards self-centeredness, where even the good that we do ends up being for our own glory, so that people will see how wonderful we are.

That’s not to be our focus as Christians. Rather, all that we do is to point people to Christ Jesus. Before service, in my prayer with the acolytes, I generally end up praying along the lines of, “be with us and our service so that we might point people to Christ Jesus, the Light of the world.” That’s why we have candles, they point to, they are reminders of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World. That’s why the acolyte and I are wearing white, why the Elder who assists with communion today will be wearing white – because the focus isn’t to be upon us as individuals but upon Christ who covers all our sins and washes them away, upon His Word preached, upon His Body and Blood given for you. Our focus is to be upon Christ. And the thing is, this is supposed our focus not just one hour a week, or maybe two or three on a week where we have Christmas – but in all things we are to be pointing people to Christ. Even our works, the good that we do, these are simply suppose to shine forth the love of Christ, that through them God might be glorified, for indeed we proclaim that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, Christ who works through us – to Him alone be the glory. Keeping this attitude is hard enough for any sinful person, but for us Americans, in our culture of celebrity today, it’s even harder.

What we need to remember is why we put our focus upon Christ. The messengers ask John why he is baptizing if he isn’t the Christ. John’s reply is wonderful – “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.” John admits his own lack – eh, I’m not much – but Christ Jesus the One who is coming – ah, now He’s something else entirely. This Christ Jesus is so righteous, so holy, so good, that I by rights shouldn’t even be allowed near Him, not even to pull off his sandals. And indeed, Christ Jesus is righteous and holy – but did you note where John said the Christ was? “But among you stands One”. This is why we focus upon Christ. It’s not just that Christ Jesus is holy and awesome and cool – but rather this. Christ Jesus is God Almighty who comes to be with sinners in order to forgive them. This whole season of Advent we have been focused upon the coming of Christ, that Jesus is coming – and this is the beautiful thing. This holy, righteous, almighty God comes to you to be with you and to forgive you your sins. He comes to be with you so that He might save you.

Are you mired in sin and death? Christ Jesus comes to take up those sins and suffer death for you upon the Cross? Are you in a world that is cold and callous? Christ Jesus comes to shower His love upon you and show His own love through you. Do you have fear, doubts, concerns; are you simply and often overwhelmed by this life? Christ Jesus has His Word of forgiveness proclaimed to you, so that you might receive His forgiveness and life. Christ Jesus comes to be with you. John, he baptized with water – but you have been Baptized, at Christ’s own command, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, baptized by Water and the Spirit, so you know that Christ Jesus is with you and that you shall be with Him forever more, whatever this world shows you. Christ Jesus comes to be with you. And of course there is our Lord’s own Supper. In the verse following our Gospel, we hear this – “The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and saying, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’” In just a few minutes, on this very day, and indeed every day when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we say those very same words that John says here. Why? Because we too, in the Supper behold and receive the very Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world as Christ Jesus comes to us in His Supper. In so many ways, over and over and over Christ Jesus comes to you to give you life and forgiveness.

What we will celebrate this Friday night, this Saturday morning, this is not a one time event. Christ Jesus, who came down from heaven, born as a human being to be with us and save us, always, always comes to us. He has promised to be with us always, until this world passes away and yields to the new heavens and new earth for all eternity. And this is what we look for – we look for it daily in the Word, weekly in His Divine service and meal, and we look forward to the consummation when He comes again. But always, it is Christ Jesus come to save. This is the message we will hear, the message we will declare, the message we too will confess in the 5 services we have in the next 2 weeks. Your Lord and Savior comes to be with you – it is all about what He does for you, and thus it is joy and celebration that the world might try to imitate, but can never match. The Lord be with you as you finish your preparations for Christmas, and if you are not traveling to be with family, I look forward to seeing you this Friday night as we rejoice in our Lord’s birth. Until then, our prayer remains as it has this Advent – come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost + Amen.

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