Sunday, December 04, 2005
Sermon - 2nd Sunday of Advent - Mark 1:1-8
2nd Sunday of Advent – December 4th, 2005
“The Voice of John”
I. Introduction –
Last week I mentioned how the Church celebrates this time before Christmas differently than our secular culture. The culture “jumps the gun” on Christmas in a way, while the church, in the season of Advent, continues wait, anticipate, look forward to the coming Christ.
Likewise, very different visitors appear at this time in the church, and the world. In the “world”, you have the ever-present character of Santa Claus. A jolly old man, obviously well-fed, who wears a tell-tale kind of clothing and knows whether you’ve been naughty or nice.
In the church, a different man appears in Advent, John the Baptist. Would we call him jolly? Probably not. Well fed? If you like eating locusts and wild honey. He does wear a tell-tale kind of clothing – camel hair and a leather belt. And John’s call for repentance shows that he knows – you’ve been naughty, not nice.
So today, the sermon isn’t about Santa Claus, but John the Baptist. But the sermon is also not about John the Baptist. It’s about the One John prepared for. It’s about the One greater than John. Like John’s preaching itself, today’s sermon isn’t about John, it’s about Jesus. Listen to John’s voice, and hear about Jesus.
II. John’s Voice - Breaking the Silence
The voice of prophecy had been silent in Israel for some 400 years. Not since the prophet Malachi, and the last book in the Old Testament, had a prophet spoken. So when John bursts on the scene, and speaks his prophetic sermon, he breaks a long silence.
John also hearkens back to that final prophetic word, by himself fulfilling a prophecy from Malachi’s last chapter, that the prophet Elijah would be sent to prepare the way for the Lord. Remember, God keeps his promises.
John was not Elijah reincarnated, or something silly like that. But he was “in the spirit” of Elijah, and of all the prophets – predicting the fulfillment of God’s long-awaited messianic promise. John wore the clothing of a prophet – dressed very similar to Elijah himself. His garb and his lifestyle were humble – also a witness against decadence and materialism. He resided in the desert – and evoked that prophecy of Isaiah 40 “In the desert prepare the way for the Lord.”
John’s prophetic voice and rather odd actions may stick out in our minds as weird. But there was purpose behind it all. All these things pointed to something deeper about John the Baptist, something which is still worthy of our attention…
III. John’s Message – Repent, He is Near!
Most of us think about John as a Baptizer. Perhaps you even picture him waist-high in the Jordan River. In fact some scholars estimate that John baptized 200,000 to 500,000 people.
But what really caused such a stir was not that John baptized. Baptisms were quite common back then. Ritual washings of all sorts had been around since the dawn of human history in all manner of religious systems. Even in the Judaism of John’s day, Gentile converts were baptized to bring them under the covenant. So why all the fuss about John then?
It wasn’t his baptism, per se. What then caused the sensation that was John the Baptist? Even Jesus (humorously) asks the same question in Luke 7: “What did you go out in to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge themselves in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”
John was a prophet. And a prophet is a messenger. And it was the message of John that drew all the attention. It was his sermon, his preaching, that made the bigger splash than the baptism alone.
John’s message, perhaps summed up best in one word: “Repent!”. It means there is sin that needs to be dealt with. But it also suggests there is a way of dealing with it. Repentance is more than just being sorry, you see: It means contrition (sorrow) for sin, faith in the one who forgives it, and a turning or changing of heart and mind – so that good works always follow. John’s preaching of repentance was not just a harsh slap in the face, it was also an anticipation – a preparation – for the fulfillment of God’s greatest promise.
In fact, his baptism went right alone with his message: “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”. And it was a baptism which pointed forward to one who would bring a greater baptism. One who would win the forgiveness that John was offering. In a very real sense, John was preaching about Jesus, his savior – and ours.
IV. John’s Savior – “One Greater Than I”
John’s sermon culminated with an Advent theme: “Someone is coming, who is greater (more powerful) than I” We know he meant Jesus.
But Jesus said in Luke 7, “among those born of women, there is no one greater than John, yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Is Jesus contradicting John? Who is it that is really greater? Jesus, or John?We might say that Jesus is greater, and we would be right. John rightly honors his Lord and Savior, saying that he is not worthy to untie his sandal. Only a slave, and a non-Jewish slave, was expected to take off the master’s shoes and wash his dirty feet. John is saying he’s not even worthy to be Jesus’ slave. And he is right. None of us are, in our sin, worthy to come anywhere NEAR the Holy One of God. Jesus is surely greater – he is without sin – he is God of Gods, Light of Light. Jesus is surely greater.
But what Jesus says is true too. The one who is least in the kingdom is greater than even the great prophet John. The one who is least in the kingdom is the one who is the servant, the slave, of all. And who is least in the kingdom? It has to be Jesus. He who makes himself the servant, the slave of all. He who knelt to undo the thong of his disciples’ sandals, and wash their feet. He who knelt in prayer in the garden in submission to His Father’s will. He who submitted to arrest, and torture, and death on a cross – to serve all mankind with his great love. He became the least in the kingdom – despised, rejected, stricken, smitten, afflicted, shamed, ridiculed, and forsaken. He became sin to make us holy. He became the sacrificial lamb of God to make us the children of God. He became least, to make us great.
Today the prophetic voice of John can still be heard, when the Christian preacher points people to Jesus. When repentance is called for, and forgiveness is offered. It’s always based on one greater than ourselves, one who we are not worthy to serve but who served us so greatly. We preach forgiveness and baptize in his name, according to his command. We also proclaim his presence in the sacramental meal, that mysterious presence of Christ among his people. And we too remind the faithful that just as Christ once came, and though he has gone, yet his two-fold promise still stands. “I will be with you always” and “I go to prepare a place for you, and I will come back to take you to be with me”.
American culture sees Santa as the sign that Christmas is coming. But the Church sees John as the sign that Jesus is coming. I think John still gives many Christians pause. We think about his odd appearance and habits, we mull the meaning of his baptism, and we wonder just how it all fits together. But let us also, in this Advent season, ponder the message, the sermon of John. “Repent! For someone great is coming” And let us put our faith and trust and hope in that one, Jesus Christ, our servant and our Lord. Repent, and be forgiven, for he is near.
Today we hear from our annual Advent personality, John the Baptist. And in John’s preaching, we too are prepared for Christ’s coming – and the salvation he brings.