Preached December 18, 2011
St. John 1:19–28
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
We have come to the final Sunday of Advent, this time with a full week remaining before the arrival of Christmass itself. We have spent the previous Sundays talking about various ways to prepare ourselves for the coming of the Messiah, for His coming both as the Babe of Bethlehem in His First Coming, and for His Second Coming in judgment at the end of time. Last week, we talked about the witness of St. John Baptist, and other ministers of Christ, in preparing the way for His coming. Even though it may sound a bit circular in reasoning, today we will talk about Jesus Himself as the final aid and guide in our preparation for receiving the Christ, the Son of God. This is only possible because of the fact that Jesus is True Man as well as True God, and that He has lived among us before even as He will come again!
The fact that Jesus is a necessary part of the preparation for receiving Himself points to the fact that there can be no last minute preparation. It is necessary to have Jesus Christ in our hearts and minds if we are to be properly prepared to receive Him, and this takes time to accomplish. We cannot be ready to accept Him as our true Savior and Lord when He becomes physically present if we do not already know Him. To wait until He arrives to accept Him will be entirely too late.
Consider the opening verse of our Epistle lesson for today, Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. We may be inclined to think these to be strange words from St. Paul, words perhaps no longer applicable to us today in our chaotic, violently disturbed world. On what basis could St. Paul tell anyone to Rejoice? Did the Christians as Philippi also not have a pretty wild and disturbed world in which they lived? Where does this command, repeated twice no less, this command to Rejoice come from? The whole answer lies in the middle portion of the sentence, in the Lord, for it is here and here only that we may reliably find true occasions for joy even while we continue in this life on earth. But we rejoice in the Lord only if we have Jesus Christ in our hearts at all times! If we truly have Christ, then we are continually involved in His service, and find ourselves wrapped in His divine love at all time. Those who are without Christ cannot possibly know this intimate, joyous relationship with Jesus Christ.
Continuing on, we read, Philippians 4:5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. In modern conversation, we use the term moderation to refer to a life well disciplined with regard to meat and drink. That is not at all the principal meaning intended here, although it is assumed that Christians should always lead disciplined lives. The intention here is to say that we should be easy to get along with, not easily offended, to not take offense readily at the small everyday slights that come our way in the world. St. Paul is saying that we should let it be known that we are this sort of people who do not readily take offense, and that the reason we act this way is because we know that the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, is coming soon. The world needs to know that His impending arrival causes us to see things differently than we might otherwise see them, to see these things as insignificant in light of the great event that is coming soon.
We should seek to be very gentle and loving in spirit. We know that the Lord is coming soon, and that He will show all our earthly reasoning to have been mistaken and ill-founded at best. We should be ready to give up everything except the Gospel of Jesus Christ to which we must cling. The more we are ready to drop the things of earth, the more we will be able to grasp hold of Heaven.
We are told to live abundantly, but we don’t always know what that word means. Here is the definition, straight from St. Paul: Philippians 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. That’s right, to live abundantly means to be careful for nothing, to live as though you have plenty of everything you need — because in fact you do. The Jesus Christ who forgives our sins also provides for our every need if we will only come to Him in prayer and ask Him for whatever we need and thank Him for His generous provisions for our lives. We are often too proud, too stiff necked, to be willing to ask for what we need, and we are unwilling to have to thank even our gracious God, preferring to imagine that we provide for ourselves (what grand delusions we have!), and so, we fail to ask for the really abundant fare that could be ours for the asking. But the instructions are right there — by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Finally the last verse of today’s Epistle lesson, Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. St. Paul promises the peace of God, that is a peace that comes directly from God Himself and dwells in the heart, giving a sense of security and peace to the mind as well with a certainty of invincibility. It is a peace that is shared by all godly people everywhere, although none can really explain it very well. It is the peace that comes from being reconciled with God and at peace with Him. This peace comes from our Savior Jesus Christ and Him alone, and it is He that gives us this peace.
The source of all these benefits is the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our joy is “in the Lord,” our moderation is because “the Lord is at hand,” our peace is, “through Christ Jesus.”
In turning to the Gospel lesson for today, we see the witness of the great herald prophet, St. John Baptist, when he was questioned by the Jews about just who he actually was. John 1:19-20 And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. The wording is somewhat strange on modern ears when the St. John records, he confessed, and denied not; but confessed; that part is apt to leave us a bit confused, but the final part of the statement is undeniably clear: St. John Baptist told the Jews that he was not the Christ. Certainly there would have been some temptation to usurp the position of Christ. John had a following, and many people were looking at him as possibly being the Messiah. If John had answered the Jews, saying, “Yes, I am the Messiah,” that would have greatly strengthened his following and his own prestige would have risen immensely. St. John Baptist did not do that; he was filled with the spirit of Jesus that gave him a clear understanding of his true role so that he could resist the temptation to aggrandize himself at this moment.
John 1:21 And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias? And he saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No. The first of these refers to the prophecy of Malachi 4:5 Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: Although Jesus Himself refers to John as a prophet and more than a prophet, John does not dare to claim this for himself and thus denies that he is the fulfillment of Malachi. The second question, referring to that prophet, comes from a prophecy of Deuteronomy 18:15 The LORD thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; In the same manner, John the Baptist is unwilling to claim to fulfill the prophecy of Deuteronomy. In all of these denials, St. John Baptist is simply seeing his own insignificance, and refusing to do anything that might distract people from the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, who was, even then, in the midst of them. Thus he establishes the fact that he was vastly beneath the one who is coming after him.
John the Baptist did not see himself as a great orator, a speaker, who attracted crowds because of the quality of his voice. On the contrary, he did not even see himself as a person, a messenger, in his work, but simply as a message, the word of warning and preparation. He saw his baptism as incomplete, a confession of sins but needing something more for complete forgiveness. His work was simply that of preparation, getting people ready to receive the Messiah, but even that was at an end by the time he said, John 1:29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. After the Messiah had come, as he announces here, there was no more work for the herald prophet but to fade away.
The message to the Church on this last Sunday of Advent is, Jesus Christ, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Messiah, stands among us now! Let us receive him with joy and worship!! Allelulia!! It is only through His unseen presence that we can properly celebrate His First Coming and prepare to receive Him in His Second Coming. There is no other aid or assistance that will avail us anything if we have not Christ in our hearts. Let us cling to Him as we go forward in somber joy at this most holy time of the year.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.