THE NATIVITY OF JOHN THE BAPTIZER AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord's hand
double for all her sins.
A voice cries:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem, but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent a message to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any word of encouragement for the people, say it.” So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said:
“Men of Israel and you who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. And after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance. All this took about 450 years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king, of whom he testified and said, I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.’ Of this man's offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but behold, after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.’
“Brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation.
Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him.
And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel.
Advent in June? Really pastor? Come on. It can’t be time already to start getting ready for Christmas! Costco doesn’t even have its holiday decorations for sale yet! Can we not at least wait until August? It just can’t be time to start preparing for Christmas - the kids haven’t even started their summer holidays yet! But you know, exactly 6 months from this very day, we will be gathered in this place and we will be singing Silent Night by candlelight. Today, if you didn’t catch it already, is the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist.
You see exactly three months ago we celebrated the Annunciation - the day when Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced that she would conceive in her womb and bear a Son, and that she would call His name Jesus. At that time, we also heard that her relative Elizabeth in her old age had also conceived a son, and that it was the sixth month with her who was called barren. March 24 to April 24 to May 24 brings us to today - June 24! 6 months plus 3 months is 9 months which means Happy Birthday to John the Baptizer.
Now as you may have noticed our paraments are red this morning, and no, it’s not for Christmas. I hope any of the Sunday School kids would be able to quickly tell you that they would be white for Christmas. They are red because, as you should also know, John the Baptizer was a martyr. Holy Scripture tells us that He was beheaded by King Herod at the request of Herod’s niece/stepdaughter at the urging of her mother, who was with Herod, even though she was his brother’s wife. She wanted John dead because he kept pointing out that this shouldn’t be.
John was a martyr? Again you might ask then why are we celebrating his birthday? I thought we remembered martyrs on the day that they died - the day that they entered into Heaven’s glory at the shedding of their own blood. And you’d be right to think that, because as you will see on August 29th the Church will remember St. John again for his martyrdom. St. John alone of all the saints though, is also remembered on his birthday - in part because there was no man greater born of woman than he, and also, because his birth heralded the arrival of the even greater One who was coming after him, whose sandal he was not worthy to stoop down and untie.
John’s birthday is a big deal because of Jesus, as everything that is connected with Him in the Church always is, or should be, and so six months before Christmas, on this summer day in June, the Church turns our hearts and minds towards things we normally only ponder in the wintry days of December. But you know meditating on those things now is not at all out of place for us as God’s people, and especially as Lutherans, since the Reformation and so our Church body began with Luther’s statement that the whole Christian life was to be one of repentance - one long day by day preparation for the return of Jesus.
While some may argue that there is a point where it is too early to start getting ready for Christmas, Holy Scripture is clear that it’s never too soon to prepare for Jesus because there will be a time when it will be too late. And so it cries out over and over again prepare, repent, turn, now, for now is the day of salvation. As each Sunday for the Church is an Easter day, so too, in many ways, every day of her children’s lives is an Advent day - a day to have their ears and hearts open to the sainted Baptizer and his preparation proclamation. And so on this blessed day in June, as our mother gathers us here, she gently reminds us of this truth as she sets John before us with his finger pointing toward Jesus.
Now, that pointing finger beloved is the key to understand what this preparation looks like. It is not like a t-shirt that a friend of mine has that says on the front: “Jesus is coming!” while on the back it reads: “Quick everyone look busy!” No, no, no. As Zechariah’s loosed tongue so beautifully lays out for us, today, his son’s preparation proclamation gives knowledge of salvation to God’s people in the forgiveness of their sins! Preparation for Jesus isn’t about doing something. It’s about receiving something. Doing something was what got us into trouble in the first place, when our first parents reached out to take, when they should have trustingly waited to receive.
John’s preparation is all about getting your empty hands cupped up in front of you, so that they’re ready to receive all that the Lord has to put into them. John’s preparation is about getting your eyes turned away from yourself and everyone and everything else, so that they’re ready to see Jesus. John’s preparation is all about getting us ready to receive the forgiveness that God wants to pour out upon us in Jesus. This beloved is the only reason why we are ever asked as God’s people to look at our sins, why we are asked to name them, own them, confess them before the pastor. It’s not about beating ourselves up so that we can feel crummy about how we have failed. It’s not about seeing what we’ve got to work harder at and improve. It’s always and ever only for the sake of forgiveness.
It’s never too soon to get ready for Jesus, while it can be too late, and so it’s never too soon to hear from John, even in June, because every day of every year of our lives is truly an Advent day for us, beloved, because we truly are an Advent people. Since we have been baptized with the Baptism that John was born to bring that we might be baptized into Christ, our whole lives are about receiving the salvation that Christ the Son of God came down from heaven to win for us, that we might live the eternal life that He earned for us, in the rooms of the Father’s house that He has prepared for us. This life is about preparing us for an eternal weight of glory prepared in the heavens for us.
And so our mother, the Church, sets John before us today, beloved, that we might be built up, strengthened and encouraged in the truth that our lives are headed towards Jesus. There is always something great and glorious ahead of us … greater and more glorious than anything else that we can imagine or look forward to in this life. As a foretaste of that glory our Mother in keeping with the Lord Jesus’ command and institution, sets before us the feast that Christ gave her on the night when He was betrayed … the feast that is the miraculous means for Him to be with each of us now until we see His beautiful face with unveiled eyes in the courts of heaven.
And so beloved let us give thanks to almighty God for sending John the Baptizer to us, by following his pointing finger to the altar with cupped hands to Jesus this morning, where John will most certainly join us and rejoice to hear us singing with the whole company of heaven and all angels and archangels in praise of the Lamb of God, who takes the sins of the world away! Amen.