[This Sunday’s sermon was written by Chaplain Graham Glover, CPT USARMY. Chaplain Glover is a member of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer.]
IN NOMINE X JESU
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, can you imagine what it must have been like during the interrogation? A simple man who ate locusts and honey, that preached repentance and baptized with water, and suggested – rather, told his followers the radical proposition that the long awaited Messiah was at hand. Can you imagine this simple man being questioned by the priests and Levites?! The Jews of the 1st century certainly weren’t holding anything back. They sent their best to see what this fella named John was all about. His following was growing and his reputation significant enough that he caught the attention of these religious leaders from Jerusalem. In other words, John the Baptist was no ordinary prophet/preacher. He may have looked ordinary, but his lifestyle was anything but. His diet was nothing any of us would desire. I’m certain his clothes, if you could even call them that, were nothing of note. But his preaching – oh his preaching – now that was significant. And people were noticing. They were listening. Common people. Influential people. Poor people. Rich people. They noticed so much that he was called to give an account of who he was to those “in charge” – those members of the Jewish Council that ruled with an iron first, that dictated how the Israelites should practice their faith.
When the interrogation began (and don’t be deceived, this was no informal gathering, with a relaxed atmosphere and casual conversation among peers), the religious leaders pointedly asked who exactly John was (or at least, who he claimed to be). They wanted to know if he was Elijah (you know, the guy that was taken up into heaven), or the Prophet (a new type of Moses), or even – and perhaps most importantly, the Christ, the promised Messiah of old. John answered unequivocally, “No”, to each of these questions. Rather, he said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’”, referring to the greatest prophet of them all and one whose words these religious leaders undoubtedly knew well, Isaiah. To say that the priests and Levites were confused – confounded by John on this day, would be a gross understatement. They had no idea what to make of him. No idea how to understand his preaching, his baptizing, his prophecy. Although this one sent by God, born of Elizabeth – the relative of the Blessed Mother – had a purpose and message that was clear, concise, and convincing to others – to the religious leaders from Jerusalem that were supposed to be the representatives of the Jewish people, to them he was baffling. To them, he made no sense. But what else is new?
From Noah to Abraham, Moses to Aaron, David to Solomon, Isaiah to Malachi – the history of God’s people, Israel, has not been one littered with ready acceptance of those whom the Lord has sent to instruct and lead them. Even a hasty read of the Old Testament tells that tale of a people that are in constant rebellion against that which the Lord commands them to do and those sent to communicate these commands. Every now and again we find “pockets” of righteousness, times when it seems that the people of Israel are listening to God’s prophets, priests, and kings. But on the whole, Israel doesn’t get the highest of marks. They are a people blessed with much, but who constantly dismiss the One that gave them everything – their faith, their land, their leaders – their salvation. Which is why the interrogation of John shouldn’t really surprise us. It’s par for the course with the religious leaders of Israel, isn’t it? Once again the chief priests get God’s message and His messenger wrong. Once again, God’s people don’t listen. The message, God’s message, is, as so often the case, flatly rejected by His own people. Although the message was abundantly clear (John was no boring preacher or for that matter, difficult to understand), those who should have known better did not heed the words of the one crying out in the wilderness. Instead, they rebuffed and ridiculed not only this holy messenger, but ultimately, the message itself. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. As we students of the scriptures know, this is how God’s people seem to always respond.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s not presume that we New Testament people – we who know the full story of who John is – of the message he came proclaiming, are any better. You might even say that we who belong to the new Israel, the one holy catholic and apostolic church, are no better than the priests and Levites who questioned John. Did not the followers of the One whom John prepared them for, Jesus, ignore and reject much of what He proclaimed? Did not Jesus’ very own disciples betray and deny Him, even up to His death? Did they not question whether He actually rose from the dead and later wrongly anticipate His return, both in time and manner? The Early Church wasn’t that much better. I know, I know, they suffered through almost 3 centuries of the faith being illegal – punishable by death, but it’s not like the Early Church was ripe with purity. They were some of the worst heretics history has given us. These first Christians weren’t exactly shining examples of godliness, with perfect adherence to the truths of the faith. You might even say the Early Church was filled with more distortions of Christianity than ever. Ah, but our Reformation fixed all that, didn’t it? Thanks to Martin Luther and his followers all of Christendom is now united behind a clear exposition of our Lord’s Gospel. Yeah right. From 1517 to today, those who make up the Church are just as sinful, just as guilty, just as vindictive, just as confused and confounded as God’s people have ever been. But again, this shouldn’t shock you.
In fact, all of us here present are just a confused and confounded as the Israelites, the chief priests and Levites, and the Church has ever been. Every single one of us – no matter how old, what we do, where we come from, or what our past or future holds – are all the same. We all reject the message and the messenger. Yes, even we who know the One to be born in a feeding trough in the town of Bethlehem in 4 days, the Child conceived by the Holy Spirit, the One born of the Virgin Mary. Even we who know the great things this Child would go on to do and the Church He would give us to offer and sustain our faith. Even we who know these things reject the message and the messenger. In this time of year we may think otherwise, as our hearts and minds have been set to prepare for His birth and ultimately, His return. But we do – we reject Him. We reject Him when we try and make our faith something it isn’t, when we think that our deeds – that our piety has anything to do with what this season is about. Like the priests and Levites who questioned John the Baptist, we presume to think that answers about our lives and our future should be made known to us – now! – not when and how the Lord deems fit. We grow impatient when things aren’t unfolding as we thought, when the festivities surrounding the coming Christmas season aren’t as we hoped, expected, or planned. (The priests and Levites were just as impatient, especially when Jesus revealed Himself to them, drove them out of the Temple, and basically chastised their teachings!) We are confused when our faith doesn’t seem as solid as at once was. We are confounded when we are asked to do things by the Lord that we don’t want to and told not to do those things our carnal impulses move us to on a daily basis. Yes, we reject the message told to us because this message isn’t easy to explain, easy to live, or easy to share with those around us. And we don’t like to be uncomfortable. We like things our way and in our time – and so did the priests, the Levites, the Israelites, and the Church.
But as our Advent season comes to a close in the coming days, we are reminded that our faith in Christ is not about conforming to our ways and our time. Our faith in the One to be born, the One we pray will return quickly, is not about us. It’s about Him. It’s about His plan – His will. Today, on this fourth and final Sunday in Advent we come – asking, begging, and pleading the same question the priests and Levites asked of John the Baptist, “Are You the One, Jesus?” For we want to know if Jesus can do for us what we want and need. We want to know if He has stuck with us even when all we ever did was screw it up. We want to know that nothing and no one can drive Him away or cause Him to give up on us and our broken lives. We want to know, just like the Israelites did and just as the faithful have always desired. No longer do we want to be counted as those confused and confounded.
Thanks be to God that today our Lord hears us. He hears every prayer and every lament we have ever made. He is indeed still here. Indeed, He never left. Today we do know. We know that He comes to us with great power and wields that power to redeem and save us. This my dear friends is our faith – an absolute trust that the Lord will continue to do what He promised – that He is the Christ, whose Incarnation we will soon celebrate, and whose return we anxiously await. Come quickly Lord Jesus. Come quickly! In the name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Rev. Graham B. Glover