Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sermon for 11 December 2011, Advent 3B

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
John 1:6-8, 19-28
The Baptizer, His Testimony & The Light
Third Sunday in Advent, 11 December 2011
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
            Advent is a season of light. We prepare for the coming of Christ, the Light of the world, the Light no darkness can overcome. As part of that preparation, we light more candles on the Advent wreath. Since this is the Third Sunday in Advent, three candles are lit. Anticipation grows. One more to go.
            Light is a particularly illuminating way to talk about Jesus and His Gospel—pun intended. As my nephew once said in a Christmas program as his first line as a preschooler, “Jesus is the Light.” Well said. When he confessed that Jesus is the Light, he was echoing John the Baptizer in the Gospel appointed for today. Having already rejoiced in St. Mark’s account of the Baptizer pointing to Christ, today we rejoice in the Baptizer’s confession about Christ in the Holy Gospel according to St. John.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The Baptizer is a sent one—in that sense, an apostle—the last of the prophets of the Old Testament. Sent from the Lord, he has been given to testify and to baptize. John knows what the Lord wrote in his call document. John also knew what wasn’t written there. He himself was not the light. He came only as a witness to the light.
This portion of chapter one follows a section on the Word, capital W. There is a contrast between “a man” and “The Word.” And a new contrast is being developed: “a man” / “The Light,” capital L. John is the man. Jesus is the Word and the Light.
The Baptizer’s call is to bear witness. That’s not unlike pastors today. A pastor does not preach or teach or administer the sacraments on his own authority, but because of the Lord’s authority. Christian congregations call pastors to exercise the office of the Holy Ministry for them publicly, and for the sake of good order in the Church. When a congregation calls a pastor, that does not mean that individual Christians like you are absolved of the Christian call to bear witness to Christ. Every Christian is, through Holy Baptism, in the priesthood of all believers. It doesn’t matter how much we advertise. It doesn’t matter how many mass rallies Christians hold. Most people join Christian congregations like yours/ours because of a personal invitation from someone they know and respect, like you.
The word about the Word goes forth through the voice in the wilderness, the witness to the light. Note that the purpose is not merely so others can only see or know the Light, but that all might come to believe. There are many people in America, in Wyoming, in Sheridan County, that have seen the light of Christ in the past or know of Jesus. That’s not enough. The Lord ultimately wants to call them all the way to faith, to belief in His Son. The Lord has His use of His servants in His way. When John says “through him,” referring to John, he shows that the Baptizer is the Lord’s man, the Lord’s instrument as will be the Assistant Pastor who ultimately accepts our call.

And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"  He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." 
Confess is a word we use often at Church, but how is it really defined? Confess, say the same thing, say together. In the Divine Service, we confess our sins and we confess a creed. When you confess sins, you are saying the same thing as the Lord, you are “fessing” up to what you and the Lord already know. He says, “You are sinful and unclean.” You say to Him, “I am sinful and unclean.” And then He declares you forgiven. You add your Amen by faith.
We also confess the truth of the faith, as summarized in one of the three ecumenical creeds: Apostles’, Nicene, or Athanasian. There, not only are you saying the same thing as the Lord has revealed to us in His Word, you are saying the same thing as the saints next to you in the pew, around the world, and back through all Christian history.
Back to the Baptizer. John is confessing the truth of the faith. He knows his place and his call. He is not the Christ. He is the voice, the witness, the forerunner, the Elijah who was to come, the Baptizer. Jesus is the Light. John is asked for a confession when priests and Levites were sent by the Jewish leaders of Jerusalem: “You, who are you?” is a test of any prophet that should appear based upon Deuteronomy 18.
Note how John the Evangelist describes the response of John the Baptizer: He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely. You are a Christian, a word that means “little Christ.” You are a witness to the Light, capital L. The question is, are you a good witness, or a poor one? People around you know you go to church. Or do they? What light shines from you, reflected from Jesus, the Light? Are you currently confessing Jesus in thought, word, and deed, by what you do and what you refuse to participate in? Have you denied your Lord and Savior, your Light in the darkness of this shadowland?
Remember, John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Fear not. Even your sins of denial and lack of confessing are forgiven. You are now called to confess Christ and not to deny Him. John the Baptizer confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, "I am not the Christ." 

And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" And he answered, "No."  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?"  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 am not Elijah,” John confessed. Jesus later tells His disciples that John was the Elijah who was to come.  This seeming contradiction is not too hard to explain. Some thought Elijah himself would return, but instead, the Lord provided one like Elijah, one in the office of Elijah. They asked, “Are you the Prophet?” (capital P.) But they didn’t ask him, “Are you the Elijah who was to come?” To that he would have confessed, “Yes.” God alone knows if they would have believed him.

(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.)  They asked him, "Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?"  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."  These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
It is as if they were asking, “What does it say in your call document, John? Why are you here? Who sent you?”  Similar to his answer last week from Mark, St. John, in his account of the Holy Gospel, witnesses to the same truth. They both show that the Baptizer’s message is consistent. He does not deny who he is. He does not confess to be something that he is not. Most significant, however, is his consistent witness to the Light, Jesus.

His authority? We know it came from God, something these Jewish leaders were not willing to admit even after John was dead. The Baptizer reveals the author behind his authority to preach and baptize when he speaks about the One they do not know who is greater, Jesus, the Messiah. In so saying, he presents himself again as the Lord’s forerunner to the Lord’s Messiah. Hence, his authority comes from the author of light.

John shares that Jesus is here already, that the Pharisees obviously haven’t seen Him, that He is already coming to bless the people, and that He is infinitely great.

Jesus’ work is a greater work than John’s. John’s work is to apply the Lord’s means of grace in baptism. We learned last week that it was a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ work is to win the forgiveness of sins by His life, death, and Resurrection, for you. A pastor’s call today is to apply the means of grace of Word, Baptism, Absolution, and the Supper, given for you and to you.

And the Lord’s action is again specifically located, at Bethany, on the east side of the Jordan, as opposed to the other Bethany near Jerusalem, the home of Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Today, the Lord locates His light where His Word is preached in all of its truth and purity and where the sacraments are administered to His institution and mandate. Here. Now. For you. Jesus is your Light.

(Preus, Just Words, p 63ff.) Jason was confused. He thought life should have begun to make sense by the time he was a junior at the university. But it hadn’t. In fact, he was more confused than ever. The more he learned, the less he knew.
Now in his course on the postmodern worldview, the situation had grown worse. Jason was learning that many contemporary philosophers and linguists were making a compelling case that there is no unified field theory, no universal truth, no knowledge that can help a person make sense of life. Jason wondered what would become of his search for meaning. Was it all in vain? Why was he going to school? He seemed to be in the dark.
Jason asked his parents for guidance, but they were not much help. (His pastor didn’t know much about postmodernism either [, so he didn’t understand Jason’s questions]. Finally, almost in desperation, Jason went to see his advisor, Professor Luz, who taught philosophy at the university. She helped Jason to see that while the human perspective is important, life is more than “what you see is what you get.” In addition to the phenomena that surround us, which we can see and measure and quantify, there is a deeper, or higher, reality that gives meaning to what we experience. Philosophers call it the metaphysical. Theologians call it God. For Christians, [we have it rock-solid, for certain, for sure, for us, only when we talk about the One, only, Triune God who has revealed Himself in the Holy Bible,] God, especially as He has revealed Himself in Christ, [Who] enables us to make sense of our reality. Jason was elated. That is what he had always thought, [due to His Christian upbringing,] but Professor Luz brought clarity to his vague understanding. [An appropriate name, Luz. It means light!]
Jesus’ light shines in this world’s present darkness. Light drives away what goes on in the shadows, the darkness of evil, death, uncertainty, and ignorance. Jesus’ light has already enlightened your personal darkness. Hide it under a bushel? No! We’re gonna let it shine! Amen.

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.