3 Advent Proper B3                        
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 1:6-8; 19-28 Sermon                                    
December 11, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
72 "Rejoice, Rejoice Believers"
73 "Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates"
71 "Watchman, Tell Us Of The Night"
91 "Let The Earth Now Praise The Lord"


TEXT (vs. 6-9):  “6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

            Blizzards can be frightening things--and no, I'm not talking about the dessert from Dairy Queen either.  I'm referring to that type of blinding snowstorm where you can hardly see anything.  Very heavy snow combined with high winds produce this type of storm.  And yes, I've been in the middle of blizzards, although it's been quite a few years since I've experienced one, or that we've had a blizzard in this area.

            Now blizzards can be okay, as long as you can stay inside your comfortable home, you have enough food to last awhile, and the power doesn't go out.  However if you have to be out in the middle of a blizzard, they can be deadly.  Heavy blowing snow can be blinding--so much in fact, that you can be standing only a few yards from your front door, and be completely lost.  People have been found frozen to death in places where, if they had only taken a few good strides in the right direction, they would have been safe and warm.

            Farmers used to keep long ropes handy in their houses.  If they got caught in the house during a blizzard, they were able to take the rope, tie one end to the house and the other end to themselves so they could always find their way back again.  Then they would take off in the general direction of their barn, hoping to run into it when they got there.  And when they did, then they would tie the other end of the rope to the barn, so they could get back and forth to tend to their livestock.

            I remember getting caught in a blizzard once when I was driving.  My headlights were virtually useless.  My only saving hope was that I was able to follow behind a truck.  The only part of the truck that I could clearly make out was his taillights.  By following those taillights, I was able to stay in the wheel tracks he was making.  It was a long trip doing things this way, but I made it safely home, thanks to a few guardian angels working overtime.

            In our Gospel lesson last week, we were introduced to a man by the name of John the Baptist.  John was the second cousin of Jesus, the son of Zechariah and Mary's first cousin Elizabeth.  John was the one who was prophesied by Isaiah to be the one who would be the forerunner of Christ, who would prepare his way.  Jesus was called the light of the world.  And it was John's job to bear witness to that light.

            Today's Gospel lesson tells us about how the church leaders reacted to John's message.  John was certainly attracting a lot of attention.  People were going out into the wilderness to hear him preach, and to be baptized by him.  John was indeed a most powerful witness that the Holy Spirit used to bring people to know their Saviour Jesus.

            A message this powerful certainly attracted the attention of the church leaders.  And they had questions too!  These weren't questions intended to trap him, like they tried to do with Jesus.  No, these were legitimate questions that any good church leader should have.

            They first asked him if he was the Christ, the promised Messiah.  John very quickly affirmed that he was not the Christ.  He didn't want there to be any doubt about that; in fact in verse 27 right at the end of our Gospel lesson, John says this about his relationship to Jesus:  "...he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie."  John did not want to assume any of Christ's glory for himself.  In fact, he regarded himself as a most unworthy servant of Christ.

            So the questions continue.  Since he affirmed that he was not the Christ, or Elijah, or the Prophet, then they want to know, "who in the world are you anyway?"

            John responds by repeating Isaiah's prophecy in verse 23:  "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 'Make straightthe way of the Lord,' as the prophet Isaiah said."

            I began my sermon by using the illustration of a blizzard.  Not only is this seasonal, but I think that there's a great comparison to be made about life in general, and how John fits into the grand scheme of things.

            Life is like one gigantic blizzard.  Without some sort of help, all we can do is wander about aimlessly, not knowing exactly where to go or what we should do.  That's what sin does to us.  It blinds us.  Sin prevents us from seeing the help and safety that is there for us.  So if we were to be left on our own, we would ultimately experience eternal death and separation from God.

            I often think of myself back so many years ago when I was following that truck through the blizzard.  I really don't know how he could have seen much better than I could, except that he had a better vantage point.  But I followed the light, and I followed in his tracks.  And even though things were a bit tense, he was still able to lead me safely home.  Had it not been for him, if I would have tried to do it all on my own, I probably wouldn't be here today.  I was completely at his mercy.

            John was the person to come along who came to those people hopelessly lost in sin, and point them to the light of Jesus Christ.  Jesus had come to be the Saviour of the world, so that through faith alone, people would know his saving grace.  People who were wandering about aimlessly in the darkness of sin would be shown the light of life.  Jesus was the one who would bring repentant sinners safely home.

            As I was studying our texts for today, frequent references were made to our Old Testament Lesson from Isaiah chapter 61.  One of the things that it is well to note, is that the focus is upon what God is doing for his people, and not what people have done for themselves.  Listen to some of these things:  Verses 1-3 say: "...he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified." 

            This is all God's doing, and not our own!  That's where the focus of all this is, and that's exactly what John was pointing out.  God would take and rescue all those lost in that "blizzard of sin," and make them safe, warm, and happy.  That's the beautiful part of all this.  It's all God's doing, and nothing of our own.

            Listen again to the description of John the Baptist from our Gospel lesson this morning:  "7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light."  This is the direct answer to Isaiah's prophecy.  There's no mistaking that.

            In our Gospel lesson for today, the priests and the Levites came at the behest of the Pharisees.  It would be safe to say that all these men were well acquainted with Isaiah's prophecy.  They were looking for the Messiah as eagerly as anybody was.

            However John the Baptist was hardly the person they expected to be the promised messenger.  In their minds, the forerunner to Christ should have been somebody mounted on a white horse, with trumpets heralding his entrance, with all the regalia of royalty surrounding him.

            But this guy?  He was a homeless guy living in the wilderness.  He was crudely dressed in camel's hair--and he probably smelled like one too.  He had all of the physical attraction of a mud fence.  How in the world could this be the one God sent to prepare the way for the Saviour?  What could God have been thinking about?

            If we look at what Jesus says in John chapter 6 verse 37, we read:  "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out."  That's one very comforting passage of Scripture.  Whoever comes to Jesus in faith is given the promise that he will accept them.  God's Church could not be isolated in the ivory towers amongst the high officials and councils.  It took someone the likes of John the Baptist to bring the Saviour to everybody, irrespective of who or what they were.

            Today we have another focal point in our service.  We lit the third candle on the Advent wreath, which is pink.  It is set apart from the other three blue candles for a reason.  The third Sunday in Advent is known by the Latin term, "Gaudete," which means "Joy."  The color pink is symbolic of joy.  Amidst the penitential nature of Advent, there is the beacon of joy that shines through everything else.

            Christmas time is a time of joy, and we know that.  We sing the word "joy" in many of our Christmas carols and hymns.  We celebrate the season with the joy of our Saviour, being born in Bethlehem for us.

            But the joy we celebrate today goes far deeper than that.  It is the joy we experience knowing that Jesus is Immanuel, which means as the Bible says "God with us."  We have the constant joy of knowing that what happened in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago is not something that we celebrate only once a year.  Jesus is here with us, right now, just as he has promised.  He said that he will never leave us nor forsake us, and he has kept that promise.  That's a joy that we will always have in our hearts.

            There's also the joy of knowing that God has done everything necessary for our salvation.  He's even given us the faith to believe this through the work of the Holy Spirit.  When we accept Jesus as our Saviour through faith alone, then we know without a doubt that all of our sins are not only forgiven but also completely removed from us.  We can be assured that we will stand before the judgment seat one day and be judged according to Christ's righteousness and not our sinfulness.  That is definitely joyful news!

            Today we see John the Baptist pointing out the true light of Christ.  That was his mission.  Don't we also have that same mission before us?

            Through Jesus, we have experienced a complete change.  Our sadness has been turned into joy.  We have something to celebrate.  We also have something to share.

            We can assume that the priests, Levites, and Pharisees knew about John because the people were talking about him.  People were going and hearing him and being baptized by him, and they were coming back changed people.  The Gospel had touched their lives.  Their sins had been forgiven and they had been given a new hope.  Through the Holy Spirit, they had been attracted to the light.  They were no longer lost and wandering about aimlessly in the blizzard of sin.  They followed the light of Christ, who would lead them safely home.

            Oh yes, I think back about my blizzard experience from time-to-time.  I have gained a very healthy respect for storms like that, and I have the tendency to stay safely put someplace instead of venturing out and risking my life.  But I had the experience, and it's one that I will never forget.

            I will never know who that semi truck driver was, nor will I know the company he was driving for.  But I have him to thank for allowing me to follow his lights and follow in his tracks until I got safely home.  I had his lights ahead of me for miles, never wavering or fading.  I followed those lights and found warmth and safety.  I've often wondered if angels can drive trucks?

            In this sinful blizzard we call life, we have the one true light that will lead us safely home, and that is our Saviour Jesus Christ.  John the Baptist pointed out that light, God the Holy Spirit has given us faith in that light, and so we follow that light.  We pray that the light of Christ will always shine through us so others will be attracted to the light and come to know the joy that is ours. 

            Joy to the world!  Jesus is with us now and always, just as he has promised.