Advent 4: Rorate Coeli
Delivered By
Pr. Lovett
Delivered On
December 18, 2011
Central Passage
John 1:19-28
+ John 1:19-28 +
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.  The Jordan river runs north to south.  It separated the land of Israel, the land of Canaan, from the wilderness where the Israelites wandered for 40 years.  Joshua, son of Nun and successor of Moses, the man of God, led the people of Israel across the Jordan on dry ground and into the Promised Land.  The first city they came to was Jericho.  Bethany beyond the Jordan where John was baptizing was the place – or close to the place – where Joshua had led the people of Israel across on dry ground.  But John was in the wilderness.  Not any wilderness.  Not just a barren place.  He was in the wilderness.  The wilderness that dominated the collective memory of Israel.  The wilderness that fathers spoke of to their sons when they told them about Moses and their ancestors as they participated in the Passover Meal, fulfilled in the Lord’s Supper.  John was in the wilderness of the Golden Calf; the water from a rock; the wilderness of manna and of rebellion, of hardship.  Jerusalem and the temple, the holy city, the dwelling place of God, the Promise Land, was on the other side.  John was on the wrong side of the Jordan, in Bethany beyond the Jordan.
But John was on the wrong side of the Jordan because John wasn’t the Christ.  He was the forerunner; a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”  It wouldn’t be the son of Elizabeth, but the Son of Mary that would lead the people of God across the Jordan and into Jerusalem where He would establish His throne made of two beams of wood, nails, and spear; where He would be crowned with thorns and rule the nations with an iron scepter.  Where He would also rise again from the dead and ascend to the Father and from where He would send out His Spirit into the whole world, changing sinners into saints and giving righteousness to the unrighteous by the words of His apostles and the witness of His Church.  It was not John’s job or privilege to go across the Jordan, just as it hadn’t been Moses’ job or privilege to lead the people of God into the Promise Land.  But now one greater than Moses is here.  Now one greater than Joshua is here.  Now one greater than John is here, the strap of whose sandals John is not worthy to untie, the Lord Jesus.
And the Lord does not only baptize with water unto repentance, He baptizes with fire unto eternal life.
It can rightly be said that the Church fills the shoes of John the Baptist.  Or perhaps better put, the Church fills the Baptist’s pulpit.  She preaches repentance and baptizes sinners unto repentance.  Like John she points to the Lord Jesus and says of Him, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world!”  She, too, prepares the way of the Lord to come into the hearts and wills of men that He may conquer them with Word and absolution, mercy and grace.  The Church, it can be said, is the forerunner of Christ; a voice shouting out in the wilderness of sin, “Make straight the way of the Lord!”
But her pointing is better than John’s even as her preaching is better than John’s.  For John pointed to a man in a particular place; the Church points to the same man who fills the heavens and the earth and is made known to all in the breaking of bread.  John preached of a future kingdom and future glory; the Church preaches of the kingdom given and the glory gained.
Yet, still, the Church is a forerunner of sorts. The kingdom is given, but it is also not yet fully established on earth.  The glory is gained, but still we long for the revealing of the sons of God.  And as the forerunner of Christ, the herald of the Lord, the Church, like John, is asked by the priests and prophets of this age, by those who think themselves righteous and good, “Who are you?”  Who are you, O Church, to declare with such authority that we must repent of our ways and deeds and be baptized by you?  Who are you but a band of sinners yourselves? Beset with sin and hypocrisy and all manner of evil lusts and backstabbings and betrayers.  Aren’t your ministers caught in adultery and don’t your people look at one another with sideways, distrustful glances; wondering if the gossip that traveled the airways and phone lines this past week was about them and their sins?  Aren’t your handshakes and smiles barely skin deep, under which is hatred of one another and a longing to free of those called your brother?  Aren’t your pulpits and pews filled with those who demand glory and honor when none is really due?  Who are you to preach repentance to me?
You have asked this same question when the ministers of Christ, the voice of the Church has rebuked your sins.  You have heard the preaching of the Church and hardened your heart.  You have divorced your husbands and neglected your wives.  You have sacrificed your children on the altars of tolerance and free will; refusing to teach them the catechism and the way of righteousness but letting them spend hours and days engaged in worldly pleasures and pursuits.  And you have justified yourselves, pretending that faith will come naturally or that little children ditties are enough to sustain your and your children’s faith in the face of temptation and doubt.  You have believed the lie that your sins are not as bad as the sins of others and that your children are better than other sons of Adam.  You have comforted yourself with feel-good Christianity and pulpits that preach your righteousness. Repent.
It is not good when we are rebuked that we fire back at the one that rebukes us, “Who are you to call me to repentance?”  It’s not godly when we ignore a rebuke because we don’t like the messenger or because we think the message is to severe, to strict.  The Lord is strict.  He demands much more than we can ever give.  We never obey enough or hear the Word enough or participate in the mysteries of Christ enough.  We can never repent enough.
So while we live in this flesh of sin we will always fight the temptation to ask the question of the priests and Levites, “Who are you?”  We will always be tempted to remind preachers that they are not the Christ, even if it is His Word they preach.
And, of course, we are not Christ.  Neither was John.  Neither John nor the Church or her ministers can atone for the sins of the sinners she rebukes and calls to repentance.  Atonement is the work of Christ alone.  In fact, that is why we must often proclaim the death and coming of Christ.  So that we would learn to believe that no creature could make satisfaction for our sins; only Christ – true God and true man – could do that.  But the Church can do something that John could not do, that none of the prophets could do.  For while no one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist, he is the least in the kingdom of heaven because like all the prophets that were until John, he had no authority to forgive sin, to wash sinners clean of their rebellion.  He baptized unto repentance.  But the Church baptizes unto life.  He baptized with water.  The Church baptizes with fire.  For when the Church baptizes, it is Jesus who baptizes.
By this, the Church can forgive your sins.  She can absolve you of your rebellion and hatred of God and its fruit, your sins.  That is what your sins are, fruit of your hatred of and rebellion against God.  But the Lord Himself has vested His Church with the authority to forgive your hatred and rebellion, to wash it away; authority not even John the Baptist had.
The water with which the servants of Christ baptize us should become polluted with the blackness of our sinfulness. But the blood of the Lamb is righteousness and cleanses the water so that the clouds of heaven rain down righteousness on you.  Not only so, but you are also baptized with fire.  That is, the Holy Spirit who gives eternal life for Christ’s sake and makes you clean and holy.
Only in the kingdom of God, where rich merchants sell everything for one pearl and where master vinedressers pay workers more than they’re owed and where kings treat slaves as land owners, only in the kingdom of heaven can one man’s death bring life to all men and one man’s obedience make all men righteousness; only here can water baptize with fire and fire bring healing.  And the fire with which you are baptized is the fire of the Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life.  And by the Spirit of God you are made heirs with Christ; heirs of the kingdom of heaven.  John’s baptism couldn’t do that.  But there stands among you, a Prophet greater than John, greater than Moses, one you do know.  Jesus.
He leads you from the wilderness of sin, from beyond the Jordan, and brings you into the Promise Land through the washing of rebirth and renewal, baptizing you in waters better than the Jordan, it the waters of heaven.  The land of Canaan was only a foreshadow.  You live in the true Promise Land of plenty where rust and moth do not destroy and where children play with vipers and lions rest with lambs.  Your Joshua, the Son of Mary, brings you across the Jordan from the wilderness to the land flowing with the milk and honey of God’s mercy and grace.  He forgives you all your sins, washes you with His blood, clothes you with His righteousness, and feeds you from His table.
In Nomine Iesu
+ Amen +