Nativity of St. John the Baptist (Trinity 3)
Delivered By
Pr. Lovett
Delivered On
June 24, 2012
Central Passage
Luke 1:57-80
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The saints of old – our fathers in the faith and ancestors according to the Spirit – have assigned to this day, June 24th, the celebration of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. There are hundreds of such assigned days throughout the Church Year. Now you might wonder why a day is given to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, or to Joan of Arc or Gregory the Great or to St. Joseph, or to any of the saints of old; especially if you’re afraid that such days will suddenly cause us to start praying to these holy ones of God or looking for some blessing from them rather than from the Lord. But these days are good. They do us good. They are a blessing to us just as the men and women of faith they commemorate are a blessing to us. These Saints’ Days such as today and this next week on Friday, June 29th, which is SS. Peter and Paul, are like unto when grandpa sits in his favorite chair and begins to reminisce about heroes of old and glory days gone by. It is like when we begin to talk about good friends we once knew and great adventures we once had.
By commemorating and honoring the saints of God, the holy ones, which is what the word “saint” means, we do what the Bible has done in the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews: it has honored the faith and lives of the holy ones of God. Beginning with Adam all the way down through the Judges and Prophets, the thirteenth chapter of Hebrews commemorates and honors the faith and life of God’s chosen servants. By keeping Saints’ Days, we are doing the same.
But it is not for the sake of the saint that we honor him or her. St. John the Baptist doesn’t care one way or another if we commemorate his nativity or not, and he gains nothing by it. But we do gain something by it. We gain encouragement and strength. When we celebrate the faith and life of one of the holy ones of God we are strengthened by their devotion to the Lord and their courage in the face of great adversity and often times even death.
Consider St. John the Baptist who was born of prophecy to a aging parents whose time for childbearing was gone. Much like Abraham and Sarah who were late into their 90’s when Isaac, the son of promise, was born. Now again God was doing something like He had done before. He was again giving a son of promise; a messenger sent before the Lord to prepare the way of the Lord. John lived in the wilderness eating wild honey and locusts. He dressed in camel hair, the same dress as Elijah in whose spirit he came preaching and baptizing. He didn’t dwell among men, he lived in the wilderness where Israel had wandered for 40 years. He was rude and unruly. He didn’t care who came to him, whether nobles and high ranking officers, or whether they were priests – his own relatives – or Pharisees or whether they were ordinary men and women come to see this crazy prophet in the dessert. They all got the same sermon: “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
So engaging and significant was John’s presence and preaching that high ranking officials of both the Jews and the Gentiles came from quite a distance to see and hear him. Some repented some did not; all were pointed to the One who came after John, whose sandals John was not fit to untie.
John was not a soft man. He didn’t sit behind a desk and type up sermons. He didn’t sit quietly and read his Portals of Prayer and slowly drink his cup of morning coffee. He had one sermon and he preached it to everyone: “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand! Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  He didn’t tell engaging stories to his hearers. He didn’t soften the message with illustrations or pointed antidotes. He didn’t have one sermon for children and another for adults. He got right in your face, his locust and wild honey breath hot on your neck as he drowned you in the Jordan River and yanked you back out, rejoicing with the angels over this sinner who had heeded his words, “Repent!”
And finally, St. John the Baptist’s preaching cost him his life. First he was imprisoned, no longer to able to baptize, though he continued to preach to Herod and his officials. As a side note, isn’t it remarkable that it is the most raw and brutish men of the Bible who bend the ears of kings and tell nobles what to do? Read the stories in the Bible, none of the men who entertained kings where compromising men. From Abraham who attacked and overcame five other kings, to Jeremiah, to Amos, to St. John the Baptist, to Paul, even to our Lord Jesus, none of them preached a message that tickled the ears of their hearers. All of them spoke to kings and emperors.
And for St. John the Baptist, as with most of the rest, including Jesus and the apostle Paul, it cost him his life. Herod finally had him beheaded because Herod had given a promise to beautiful girl that she could have anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom, because she had aroused him so with her dancing. Her mother told her to ask for John the Baptist’s head on a platter. John had pointed his boney finger in her mother’s face too often, scolding her and Herod concerning their sinful living together before marriage and doing whatever they wanted when it was clear that God demands honorable and godly behavior.
Dishonorable to the end, Herod – who feared John and listen to him often, sinners usually do listen to preachers, it’s the self-righteous who do not – Herod would rather keep his honor with sinners than with God, so he had John beheaded.
Herod heard John, but he was not a sinner who repented. No angels rejoiced over Herod. He ended up diseased and rotted, eaten by worms from the inside out; a picture of one who carries death in his belly. John, on the other hand, like poor Lazarus at Abraham’s side, ended up with those angels he’d rejoiced with over the sinners who’d repented having heard the words of John, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John ended up among his vast treasure in heaven, countless men and women he’d stored up for glory by bringing them to repentance by preaching Christ crucified. For that is how the Lamb of God took away the sin of the world. That is how he took away your sin, by becoming sin for you and being nailed to the cursed tree, becoming the curse of death for you that you might gain the blessing of life before the Father.
Repent: the kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is no accident that Jesus preached these same words of John, the forerunner of Jesus. The message never changes. Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. The whole life of the Christian is one of repentance. Not feeling bad over our sins and failures, or regretting what we have done and left undone, though we ought certainly feel the sting of our sins. But a turning from who we are to what God has called us to be: saints, holy men and women of God singing His praises and living life in the crucified Son of God. Not as forerunners preparing the way of the Lord, but as witnesses to what the way of the Lord is: forgiveness of sins and life from death.
That is what it means to repent: to turn from the way you are going to the way God is calling you – from death to life. And to walk in the way of life. St. John the Baptist did this well. Abandoning the life of this world with all its vaunted pleasures, John chose the way of the dessert, the way of toil and trouble because he knew for whom he waited: Jesus, the Son of God.  That is the story of all the saints of God and why it is good to remember them and acclaim their lives and deaths. Not because they are anything in themselves. But because they are pictures and models of who we should be: holy men and women of God living in the promise of the One who took away the sins of the world and gives us life in His name. Blessed be the Lord God, for He here visits His people and redeems them, giving us the horn of salvation born of the house of His servant, David, the Man of Heaven, Jesus our Savior who delivers us from the hand of our enemies that we might worship him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of our lives.
In Nomine Iesu
+ Amen +