Advent 4
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
December 18, 2016
Central Passage
John 1:19-28

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Self-preserving sinners never ask to see or engage the Christ, they always want to argue with the messenger because they always want to self-preserve.

That’s what we have in today’s gospel reading from St. John the Evangelist. The delegation sent from the Pharisees and Levites came to question John not to find the Christ. Even though John pointed Him out to them and to everyone, saying to follow Him. Even when John’s own disciples left him for the Christ John did not discourage them or have his feelings hurt, he rejoiced that he was decreasing and the Lord Christ was increasing.

He would have rejoiced, too, if this band of sinners had repented and headed his preaching and themselves chased after Christ. But they didn’t. They weren’t concerned with the Christ. They weren’t even concerned with John. There were concerned only with themselves.

They were concerned about being right. They were concerned about their reputations. After all, if the Christ had truly come, what would He say of them? What would He do to their holy orders and positions? Above all, the sinner seeks self-preservation. That is why John the Baptist would say that he must decrease and Christ increase. John would have nothing of self-preservation. He wanted only the Christ.

But the Pharisees and Levites, the very religious people who were known for being good and holy and righteous in the ways of men, they wanted only to preserve themselves. They wanted only to preserve their thoughts, their opinions of right and wrong, just and unjust. They wanted to preserve their religion because they thought their religion was good and right and holy. After all, people spoke and thought well of them. Turns out, though, John was calling them a brood of vipers and sons of the devil. He was calling them to repent. Them! They tithed and gave to the poor and went to church all the time and he had the audacity to say that their hearts weren’t right and that they were not children of Abraham. He had the audacity to say that they would be cut down and thrown into the fire.

But instead of listening to John and heading his preaching and warnings, they argued with him. That’s what self-preserving sinners do: they argue with the Church. And that’s what John is. He is the embodiment of the Church. Baptizing, preaching, teaching, and pointing to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And sinners argue with the Church. They ask of her the same questions the Pharisees and Levites asked of John. Who are you? Who are you to demand baptism? Who are you to tell everyone to repent and turn from their self-made religions and follow Jesus in the way of the cross, the way of self-denial? Who are you to demand adherence to your doctrines and teachings?

To the sinner, the Church looks pompous. She looks braggadocios; claiming that she is the voice in the wilderness calling out: prepare the way of the Lord. She has the audacity to tell sinners that they need to listen to her and heed her voice and follow her pointing. The sinner wants nothing of it. The sinner wants nothing of it because such preaching demands that the sinner decrease and that the Christ increase.

This is the fight you are in. This is the battle ground that Satan attacks you on. He’s not plotting your next fall from moral goodness. He’s not threatening to tear your life down and rob you of your possessions and goods and status in life. If anything, he is plotting to increase your worldly goods and increase your moral compass. He is building and army of people who think well of you, who think you’re a good Christian, holy and good. He is plotting to bend your ear to hear your own praises so that you would begin to argue with the preacher. He is plotting to make you think that you’re good enough, that you tithe enough, give enough, worship enough, known enough, pray enough, and so forth. Because that’s the language of the kingdom of hell: just enough.

But it’s never enough because it isn’t the Christ.

If that delegation of sinners had listened to John, as Andrew did who was a disciple of John and the first to follow Jesus, if they had listened to John they would have found the Christ and that would have been enough.

That is how it is with the sinner and the Church. When the sinner listens to the Church, which is really the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, as John was, the Holy Spirit always witnessing of and about the Christ and drawing sinners to repentance by His preaching. When the sinner listens to the Church he finds the Christ sitting patiently waiting to receive him. She finds the Christ overjoyed at her coming to Him. The sinner finds the Lord merciful and long-suffering, receiving and eating with sinners of every stripe, of every background among men. When the sinner listens to the preaching of the Church the sinner begins to rejoice in the Lord and finds her tongue loosed to sing His praises. He finds his feet free to chase down and overtake the Lord that he would be with the Lord.

And that is what the Lord Jesus, the Christ of God, wants. He wants sinners to come to Him, to chase Him down, to sit at His feet; to receive from Him His life and salvation.

The sinners that went to John left without the Christ. They went back as empty as they had come. But had they listened to John they would not have gone back to their old religion of self-preservation, a righteousness of self-ordained goodness. They would have no longer listened to the crowds that sang their praises. Their bent ears, bent to hear their own praises, would have been straightened. The crooked path made straight. And they would have stayed with Jesus. That is what repentant sinners do. They stay with Jesus.

That is why the Lord has given us His Church and His sacraments. That is how we stay with Jesus. True, you will leave this building, and we will say that “church is over”. But in truth, you never leave Jesus unless you start listening to another voice. The Sacrament is the Lord’s pledge to you that He has come to rescue you; to save you; that He loves you and that His kingdom is being stored up for you. Not simply because you actually eat and drink of the Sacrament, but the very fact that the Sacrament is present on earth preaches these things to you. The Sacrament preaches to the whole world that the Christ is here and that He is to be found by sinners.

Your whole life – all your activities and actions, all your relationships and goings-on – need to be view through and in light of this divine gathering, this blessed congregation, this Holy Supper. Then you will be looking at the world through the eyes of the cross, through the eyes of your Lord. Then you will no longer pine for this world but the hunger for the world to come will awaken within you and you will not be satisfied with anything or anyone other than the One who prepares a place for you and is coming to receive you in His Father’s kingdom. Then you will hear only the voice of him who is calling out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord.

+ In Nomine Iesu +