Brothers and sisters in Christ, today we celebrate the nativity of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, the last of the prophets, and the one foretold in Isaiah, “the voice crying in the wilderness”. So what exactly did John come to do? He did not simply come to tell Israel and the world Christ was coming. They knew a messiah was coming, the Old Testament is clear the Lord will send into our world, a savior, one to deliver us from our sin and to save His people. John, however, came to call all people, those who knew the messiah was coming and those who did not, to repent, for all have sinned and have fallen into the darkness of their sin. John was the beginning of the actual “time of salvation” if you will, where God’s direct plan to redeem His people would be put into action.
The reading from today uses imagery of light to describe God and also Jesus Christ. Zechariah refers to Him in our reading from today, as the “sunrise from on high”, in the gospel of John, Jesus refers to Himself as the light of the world. however, It is in our sinful nature to shy away from thas light. We are afraid that if we step into the light our sins will be laid bare before the Lord our creator. As we should be! Sin is abhorrent to the Lord. Hear the words of Isaiah, when he received his call to be a prophet: “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” Isaiah understood that he was in the presence of the Almighty. He was suddenly confronted with the reality of his sin and the consequences of it. We, like Isaiah, are men and women of unclean lips. We dwelt in the darkness of our sin and have come to love it. We place everyday activities above God. Soccer or sports games replace church on Sunday. The time we could spend in private or family devotion becomes dedicated to doing chores or sitting in front of the TV, or running errands that so “desperately need to be done”. We fall further and further into the darkness and it envelops and surrounds us. So dark is the shadow we have come under, that we are unable to see the light or do anything to lighten our surroundings.
However, we see a different side of this from Zechariah. Zechariah’s tongue, after being silent for nine months, was loosed, and he immediately praises the Lord, and prophecies, focusing not of what his son would do, but on what the Son of God would do. The fear of his sin was gone because he had faith and trust in the salvific work of the child that he had just met when Mary came to visit not that long ago. Notice, that the prophecy he spoke was in the past tense. The hope that Christ would visit and redeem his people was a done deal for Zechariah and therefore for John. The hope of their salvation, for the redemption of Israel, and of the salvation of mankind was not a “yet to come”. It was a present reality for them, they had been redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ. The fulfillment of the promises of old was “now but not yet”. Christ had not physically come and carried out the God’s plan of salvation, but Zechariah knew the Word of the Lord would not fail him and was saved and moved by the Holy Spirit because of his faith in his Lord, Jesus Christ. So while it had not happened in time, it was in effect for Zechariah and his family. This was a common thought for the Israelites, the temple sacrifices, the prophets, and the first covenant were a foretaste of what was to come. They had their benefits and helped in the now, but the true hope, that was still coming. Through the sacrifices, the Israelites saw a small portion of what Christ, the true spotless lamb, would do for them upon the cross. Through the prophets the Israelites were called to repentance, they were privy to the Lord’s mercy, but the best was still to come. You and I, we have a similar hope, that the Lord Jesus is returning that He has triumphed over death and will return to call us all home and to restore the Earth to a state of perfection. Jesus will come and scatter the darkness of our lives and welcome us into the light and into paradise.
Praise be to God, that Jesus is the light that scatters the darkness. He has made a covenant with our fathers, with Abraham, that He will come and redeem His chosen people Israel. That Abraham’s descendants may be a blessing to the whole world dwelling in darkness. Brothers and sister, Christ is the fulfillment of that covenant. The prophets foretold that the people would be set free; that sin, death, and the devil would be defeated. That John would come, as the new Elijah, to call us, like Elijah did with the Israelites, to repentance and to prepare us for the most wonderful and gracious act of God. That he would send His only Son, to live amongst us. To visit us as a doctor visits an ill patient, to cure us of the ingrained sickness of sin. He comes to us not as a mere man, but man and God in one person.
Praise be to God that we are called from the darkness and into light, that our feet have been placed upon a path of peace, a sure footing. Our enemies have been defeated. Sin, death, and the devil, they hold no dominion over us. You and I are free to respond to the Lord with thanksgiving and praise. We are called to serve Him in righteousness and holiness, for all our lives. Not because it gains us standing or favor before the Lord. But because He has taken pity on our poor and lowly estate. He has sent to us John the Baptist to call us to repentance,
This hope in the “now but not yet” is continued among us even today. In the Lord’s supper we dine with the company of heaven and are invited to participate in the perfection and eternal victory of Christ. We are given a foretaste of the feast to come. We, in the midst of this world of sin, are invited to the heavenly table and to sit and feast among the saints, and at the same time we are here in this world as light bearers to the unbelievers. We look forward, like Zechariah and John, to the coming of Jesus to His people. Our sure hope is in the return of Christ, where the whole world will be restored to perfection and sin and death will be fully destroyed. So in these last day, while we wait for our Lord, we, like Zechariah, react to the work the Lord has already done. We bear Christ out into the world, we profess that “Christ is the horn of salvation from the house of David”, we proclaim and receive His mercy in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Through Him we are able to say “He is our king and king of the universe, He is our saviour and our brother.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has truly visited us, the Lord dwelt among us as a man and died for us; while we were doing everything we could to distance ourselves from Him and to hide in the darkness. He chose to seek us out, to justify us, to pay the debt our sin incurred, to shed His very blood, so that we might be loosed from the bonds of slavery. Blessed be the Lord God of Israel! He truly has done what He has promised. To God be the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding guard our hearts and our minds, until life everlasting. Amen.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.