Witness. Confess. Prepare.
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 24, 2017
It begins with preparation. Not what you do to prepare, what others have done to prepare. They have prepared for you. When a married couple is blessed by God with a child they prepare for that child. They learn about what it takes to take care of a baby. They buy a book of baby names. They set up a room for baby. They put in a lot of time and effort and prayer for the little child they will spend a lot of time caring for. You didn’t know all of this was done for you until a later point in your life when you were able to understand it. When you were a baby you were in blissful ignorance. Everyone else was doing all the work—feeding you, taking care of you, loving you.
Preparation is all from God. Your parents did a lot of work for you but it was all a gift. God blessed them with a desire to love you and raise you. It is a blessing when parents see as a gift given by God to raise their children in the faith and bring them up in a loving home. Bringing them to the House of God to be Baptized. Bringing them to the House of God to continue to hear the Word. Teaching them the Word at home, praying with them, embodying the love of God the Father in their words and actions.
That you are a child of God is a gift. God brought it about. There is nothing you had to prepare for. He brought you to repentance. He saved you from your sin. It was all gift. There was a lot of preparation that went into you being a part of the family of God. For you personally, whether it was through being brought up in the Church or being converted later on in life, God blessed you with people to bring His Word into your life and save you.
If this is true for you think of all the many other people in the faith. Two thousand years after Christ ascended into heaven people are still becoming Christians. Whether through parents bringing them to the font as infants or others in their lives sharing the Gospel with them at a later point in life. The reason this is still happening is through what is described in the Gospel reading.
John the Baptist was sent by God to bear witness. As it says in the Gospel reading for today, This is the witness, or the testimony, of John. He had been carrying out his ministry, proclaiming the Word of God and baptizing. The Pharisees sent some priests and Levites out to where he had been ministering. They questioned him. They wanted to know who he was. They had been charged with the spiritual care of the people of God and here is this itinerant preacher out in the desert who has gathered a following, people coming from all over to hear the Word and be baptized.
So as the Gospel reading says, John gave his witness, his testimony. We learn from John and later on from the apostles what it means to be a witness as a Christian. Being a Christian witness is testifying of Christ. There is nothing as a Christian you have to offer others but Christ. You might think that the good things you do, the love you show, the help you provide, are all things you can offer others. And that is true, but all of that is simply the Gospel in action. When you help and serve others what you are actually doing is living out the Gospel witness you have been called to. That is why God calls His people to serve in many different vocations, so that they may witness to Christ in many different areas of life to many different kinds of people.
The second thing we learn from John and also later on from the apostles is that being a Christian means giving a confession. John confessed and did not deny that he was not the Christ, the Anointed One sent by God to deliver people of their sins. A confession of faith is not about yourself but about Christ. It is not about who you are but who Christ is. John had been sent not to be the one to deliver them from their sins but to point people to the one who would.
Since he told the religious leaders he was not the Christ they asked him, Then who are you? Are you Elijah who was prophesied to come again? John said, I am not. Then are you the Prophet who was promised to come that would be greater than God’s prophet Moses? No, I’m not him either. They told him they needed to know who he was. They needed to give an answer to the ones who had sent them. John was trying to point people to Christ and they were trying to get him to tell them who he was.
So he told them. I am the voice crying in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, just as the prophet Isaiah said. The third thing we learn from John is preparation. He was not the one, he was preparing for the one. He knew that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of the one who would be sent to prepare the way of the Lord. He was not the Christ, he was preparing the way for the Christ. Just as John had been the recipient of the Word of God so now he was proclaiming the Word of God. He was preparing the way for the one who would bring about salvation.
They said to him, If you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, then why are you baptizing? What I am doing is to prepare the way. I baptize with water. Among you stands one you do not know. I am preparing His way. He is the one coming after me, I am not worthy even to stoop down and untie His sandals. When He comes you will see the one God had promised to send to take away the sin of the world.
This is what John did and after Jesus ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost it is what the apostles did. It is what countless pastors have been called to do down through the centuries. They witness, pointing people to Christ. They confess, speaking the truth of who He is and what He has done in His death and resurrection. They prepare the way, teaching God’s Word so that people are brought to the waters of Baptism which are the waters of salvation.
All of this preparation for you and for many people down through the ages. You are the recipient of grace as John was, the apostle Paul, the apostle Peter, and the other apostles. They were sent by God to point people to Christ. This is why Jesus instituted means through which you receive the grace and blessings of this witness, confession, and preparation. Otherwise you would think that it’s all about you. You would not see that it is by grace that God has prepared the way for you.
In the Church the proclamation is always proclamation of Christ, the one who was to come. In Baptism you are not coming to Christ you are brought to Christ. His salvation was brought about by His suffering and death. In Baptism you were plunged into that suffering and death with Him. His victory was brought about by rising from the grave and in Baptism you were raised up victoriously with Him. The witness made in Baptism is that you are born in sin and born anew in Baptism. The confession that is made of Baptism is that you are not the one who can come to God but your sinful nature is put to death and you are raised up to new and eternal life.
In the Church you are always directed to Christ, not to yourself. You fall short. You still sin and live against God’s will. Repent and look to the one John the Baptist was pointing to. Don’t try to overcome your sin yourself. Look to the cross where Jesus actually became sin Himself so that you are now without sin in the sight of God. The apostle Paul says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ. Hear the word of Christ. Hear His word proclaimed. In the Church you are always directed to Him. You always hear what He has done and in hearing you are forgiven.
Prepare your heart and mind. As the apostle Paul also says, examine yourself. Repent of your sins. Pray your Lord to strengthen you to delight in His will rather than your own. Come to the Lord’s Table where the witness is made that in bread and wine your Lord Himself comes to you for you to eat and drink of His body and blood. Where the confession is joyously made that we gather at His Altar to proclaim His death until He comes. Where you are strengthened in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another. Where you are then sent out into the world to witness, confess, and prepare. Having received Christ, bringing Him to others. Amen.