Stones for Abraham

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? What did you wake up early on a Sunday morning to see? Was it just a man or is it something more?

John was the first to leap for joy at the coming of the Christ. But the herald of Advent, its great messenger sent from above uses his voice to prepare you and to give you the advent you need. “But among you stands one you do not know,” he says. Among you God comes to dwell. The great I AM that created you and gave you all things comes to stand among you. But you don’t know him. Your path is not straight and there seems to be too much in your way. Christ is in your way or maybe it’s his bride—the church? Maybe the Ho, Ho, Ho of Santa Claus has removed what the Holy Spirit has worked to proclaim in the wilderness?

And so God sends you John and he sends you advent. He sends you four weeks of preparation, prayer, and repentance at the voice of the Prophet John. He is not the Christ. He isn’t even the prophet or Elijah (except he is)! He wants no attention of his own but instead wants you to see God Almighty —Jesus Christ—who stands among you. He will splash the water of the Jordan river and speak the Word of the Lord as he points you to this. one. man. He came to his own and his own did not know him… yet He stands here, not by virtue of your faith or your good works or your reputation, or your building, BUT —by virtue of His Word proclaimed and his sacraments administered. John is not worthy to untie his sandals and you to be called by his name and yet he comes to serve you with his life.

A brood of vipers then —gathered at the banks of the Jordan river—a brood of vipers now. Time does nothing to cleanse and change the human nature. We are sick in our sin and dead to God because of it.

Who warned you to flee the wrath to come?

How do you deal with your sin? How do you deal with your brothers and sisters when they sin against you? How do you deal with it when you sin against others…or even against someone you love??!! Do you try to reconcile yourself with some gods of your own liking? God is not mocked. Your sin, all of your sin, deserves punishment. You can’t justify it away with circumstance, logic theory, or memory loss. You are a sinner and nothing you can do about it can change it. And don’t begin to say to yourself that you are a Christian… that you have been a member of the Lutheran church for a month or two—or well, your whole life! God is able to make Lutherans out of the very stones in the parking lot. Every tree that doesn’t bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. You can’t deal with your sin. It is too much for you. Stop trying. Stop telling yourself that you don’t need the Word of God, stop insisting that you can go a week without the holy communion… stop thinking that you can keep some sins from God and tell him only the ones for which you’ve worked out the plan! Stop reasoning that you don’t really need to hear absolution for that sin, that the one thats burning you up inside, doesn’t need the certainty of the Word preached to its context and circumstance.

Stop listening to Satan and the world tell you to forget this Christ since you don’t even know him. The message of the devil is that you will find the comfort of Christmas in your homes with family or in reindeer or in a jolly old elf or in red cheery coffee cups, but not in the Word of God and in our Lord’s holy Sacraments. The preaching of the Cross of Jesus and the celebrating of his sacraments gets in the way of the devil’s agenda.

Repent! The kingdom of God is near! The voice of one calling from the Jordan makes straight the way of the LORD. An Advent for you! The Word of God opened the lips of John the Baptizer as he stood in the Jordan’s water and drenched us in the Word of God. The Word of God comes here, too. The Holy Spirit calls you by name and leads you in a straight path…and so it is that every preacher since John has preached by the water… for in your Baptism the Old Adam in you by daily contrition and repentance is drowned and dies with all sins and evil desires, and a new man daily emerges from that water and rises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

And God keeps sending his Word to you. He will not allow the world to hide this great gift from you. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came for broods of vipers. He only comes for sinners. You have to be a sinner to qualify. Thanks be to God that he sent his Son—that dying on the CROSS, all sin would be destroyed, the power of Satan unraveled, and the sting of death removed.

God gives you Advent, he gives you John, he gives you your pastors and he marks his Word upon you. Christ stands here among y’all and the voice of his Word shouts in this wilderness called life. And it shouts through Water, through called and ordained preachers, through bread and wine, that Christ died upon his cross and with his blood he paid the ransom that gives you life eternal. So Advent prepares you for this life eternal. Advent is the Word of God coming to you to make Jesus Christ known to you as you live in this busy life. Advent is God giving life and salvation to you.

The font is in a slightly different spot because of the Christmas tree…which I think is good because when you stumble into it, you remember that God has made you his child and an heir to the Heavenly kingdom. Water to remind you that you have been washed from your sins and made clean by the blood of the Lamb. An altar for you to see and know that God makes his dwelling with you. A pulpit to give you the assurance that God’s Word is not hidden but heard. The Holy Spirit knows that you need this Christ and gives you his body and blood in the bread and wine and there you have forgiveness. There is Christ. That is Christmas. God dwelling here for you, in you, to forgive you. Happy and Blessed Advent. God has made your way straight and given Jesus to you. He is yours, not just today, not just December 25, but always. He is not far from you, but always with you and you know him. And because of his love…you are forgiven.

The Feast of John’s Martyrdom

And so a young woman dances before a mob of men and a king offers up at most half his kingdom in delight… a grudge finally kills a man – the greatest man ever born of woman.  When all the world was cursed, Saint John the Baptist came to men who fear reputation and honor with their friends above faithfulness to God and to people of grudges gone wild, terribly, angrily, and sinfully wild.  He comes with a pointing finger (preached Law always accuses, the Law of God holds its hearts in contempt), but it wasn’t his finger that got him in trouble.

John the Baptist: Baptismal Font @ Our Savior Lutheran Church Houston, Texas

John the Baptist: Baptismal Font @ Our Savior Lutheran Church Houston, Texas

There is a statue of John in Houston… that I just love.  He is crouching low and gazing up into the heights of the room.  I always wish that his finger were pointing, but it isn’t so, he just looks.  He points with his eyes and with his Word. He gazes up above the altar at the crucifix hung there from the ceiling rafters.  John’s purpose, his charge?  It is to prepare you the way of the Lord.  A voice, shouting, calling in the wilderness…. Speaking into your ear, into the ear of Herod and Herodias and all the people from the countryside gathered at pulpits and preaching stations around the globe.

The most dangerous place in all the earth is the pulpit.  Whether it be the swords of men, executioners, or the darts of Satan’s archers, the enemies of God would have the Word of God stopped up.  The Word of God makes hearts uncomfortable and the works of men seen as they really are.  And so John is locked up: “kept safe in the prison of Herod,” safe that is because Herod feared John.  He knew that John was a righteous man… and so he feared him… but he feared him just a little less than he feared the recourse of a vow denied and friends who always remember the man that made a promise he couldn’t or wouldn’t keep.  Instead of fearing God, his friends put him in his place… every man fears his friends.  We tear down reputations and we do stupid things and we lie and we cheat all to make ourselves look good and our neighbors and our coworkers look stupid.  You’ve done it… maybe even today.

And then there’s the grudge.  Maybe the young woman could have asked for a diamond or half the kingdom, but a grudge stood in the way of that.  Hate and anger melded itself to the heart of Herodias.  Do not so quickly dismiss her.  The Word of God has called us out in our sin and we are mad.  People have wronged us and we have carried and kindled and strengthened that anger and we have murdered men with our hearts.  Stop up not the Word of God, his Law and his Gospel, but your own mouth, your own heart.   Repent.

Saint John once started a sermon with a word meant to jar the people out of their comatose state… to make them listen.  He said, “ID DO.”  In English, that’s “Behold.”  Not just “look!”, or just “truly truly I say unto thee”… NO, stop what you’re doing and move your body and fix your eyes and your ears for something great and spectacular.  And I would have thought he pointed… but maybe he just fixed his own eyes as he spoke…

Behold, the Lamb of God

Behold, the Lamb of God

“The Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!”  What?!  That’s no Lamb, John!  It’s just another rabbi.  That’s just a Nazarene.  All those locusts have made you crazy.  It’s just Jesus.  Yes!  Just God come down from his throne to your place.  Your God has become a man to die on the cross to save you from your sins.  John was preparing the way for Jesus.  He preached Jesus’ sermon, he was persecuted, and he was martyred – his head chopped off to point you to the head of the church: Jesus.  And so it is that a king, the Greatest King ever to be born of Woman, completed his Father’s Will perfectly to be your head and your death… and your life.  Upon a cross, he was killed to give you life.  Upon a cross he has become your life and your salvation.  Behold, the sacrifice is complete.  Your sins are forgiven and you are alive.  Behold, the Lamb of God has come near.

(Preached at the International Center – August 29, 2013 – Daily Chapel + Mark 6)

Stones

Is there any connection between John the Baptist’s words in Luke 3:8 and Jesus’ words in 19:40?  John speaks at the beginning and in the midst of preparation and Jesus speaks when he enters into Jerusalem in preparation for his crucifixion.  Are they speaking to the same crowd??