3rd Sunday of Advent | John is Preaching in the Wilderness
Text: St. John 1:19-28
Who are you? Who am I? How do you respond to a question like that?
It’s baffled philosophers, scientists, and depressed teenagers since forever.
And yet the question remains: Who are you?
When the priests and Levites came from Jerusalem to ask the Baptist this very question,
He could have answered like we would, with surface descriptions and facts.
My name is John. My parents are Zechariah and Elizabeth.
I have an aunt Mary, and a cousin named Jesus.
I’m fond of the outdoors.
I’ve got a keen fashion sense, and am on an extreme, vegetarian version of the paleo diet.
All of this is true, so why does John not say any of those things?
In John’s day God’s people were constantly on the lookout for the Messiah,
One so powerful he would deliver them from the hands of their Roman occupiers
And usher in the Kingdom of God with might and glory.
To that end, John seemed as good a candidate for Messiah as any; in fact, he was better than most.
He had the right pedigree; he came from the right kind of family;
He was a powerful and charismatic figure with a sizeable following.
But Christ or not, Elijah or not, Prophet or not, John is getting in the way.
He is challenging the Pharisees’ status and relocating their power.
People are no longer coming to hear them and fill their coffers.
Instead, they are now headed to the wilderness to hear this strange man in strange clothing.
That being the case, the Jews send an envoy on a fact-finding mission.
John knows this; so instead of telling them who he is, John tells them who he is not.
John is not the new Moses. He is not Elijah, and he is most certainly not the Christ. Just ask him.
Even though Jesus Himself calls John the greatest of all men born of women,
John makes himself a nobody, a no one. Just a voice.
John knows that to be the Christ is to be none other than God Himself.
But there is only one God, and it isn’t John.
So he will say nothing of himself, unless God says it about him first.
But he does say something.
“ I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’
as the prophet Isaiah said.”
And so he is.
John is the Advent man;
And he’s got an Advent question.
It’s the same one as the Pharisees:
Who are you?
Are you your house and zip code?
Are you your job and your salary?
Are you your clothing and popularity?
Are you your sufferings and afflictions?
Are you your anxieties and loneliness?
Are you your depression and your pain?
To yourself, just now, I am sure you murmured “No, no, no,”
Even if your life and/or your conscience shouted “Yes, yes, yes.”
John the Nobody Baptist has just the Advent for you.
In a word, John says, “Repent.”
If you are not baptized, be baptized, be washed.
If you are baptized, flee to Confession & Absolution, to repentance completed by faith.
John had one job:
To make straight the way of the Lord, to remove the obstructions, to turn people away from their pride, away from their sin, and toward the One who was coming after him, the strap of whose sandal he was not worthy to untie. (St. John 1:27)
That was all He really had to say, because the story of John is really not about John at all,
It is about Jesus.
His identity, like yours, is centered in Christ and Christ alone.
That means first saying who and what you are not.
You are not of this world.
You are not the blessings you receive.
Even as you are not the crosses you bear.
And you are not the Christ.
But you do have a Christ.
You are not the Lord of your life, but you do have a Lord.
You are not the Messiah, but you do have a Messiah.
John has shown Him to you.
He has preached Him to you.
He has waited for Him with you.
But the waiting is nearly over.
Hear these words that come just after our Gospel text for this morning:
“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me. I myself did not know Him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that He might be revealed to Israel.’” (St. John 1:29-31)
To take away the sin of the world –
That is what Jesus came to do, and that is exactly what He does.
He does that by coming into this world as one of you.
He does that by living the perfect life you cannot.
He does that by dying your death, and rising to your resurrection.
I say “your death” and “your resurrection” because Jesus has made them yours.
In a Baptism that reaches beyond the one bestowed by John,
Christ has given you everything:
Forgiveness of sins, life, salvation, and a new identity.
You are a Christian, for Christ has given you His Name and made you His own.
The Baptist did not have long to wait, and neither do you.
Advent is near its end.
The Sun is rising.
And yet He is, as John says, already “among you” –
To forgive, strengthen, and bless you.
He is already among you at font and pulpit, and in a few moments, among you at this altar –
An early Christmas Gift, laid tenderly on the manger on your tongue.
By now, like John, you know who you are not.
But the Advent question remains.
Who are you?
In the few verses that we skipped over, you have your answer.
To you “he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
You are Jesus’ very own brothers and sisters, children of His own Heavenly Father.
You are forgiven and free;
Fresh and clean and beautiful, because you have been washed into His Name.
These things took place in Raynham across the Town (river),
Where Christ Himself was baptizing.