Saturday, June 27, 2015

A birthday boy!

Sermon preached for the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist (observed), on Thursday, June 25, 2015.

There are not many birthdays on the church calendar.  St. John the Baptist is one of the few, with Jesus, whose nativity we note with a special day.  Saints are remembered on the day of their death; unlike the way we think of things in which birth is everything, the saints are remembered in the context of God's promise of the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.

We find John an odd figure perhaps because John was a bridge between two worlds – on the one hand he was a prophet of the Old Testament calling people to repentance but on the other hand he was the last of those prophets and a voice to point to the one who comes to fulfill the prophetic promise of old.

I do not think we would be friends with John.  We live a world of creature comforts and John was a man driven to cut through the niceties to speak pointedly of Him who was to come.  John wears shocking clothing even for the time in which he lived and he came with a shocking message: The Kingdom of God is at hand.

John was not a man of pleasantries and his voice sounds brash to our ears even more than it did so long ago.  John will not waste our time with casual talk but cuts to the core.  He worries little about our feelings and less about our comfort.  God is coming and that is all we need to know.  Repent is his message and believe for God is fulfilling His ancient promise now.  Pay attention or the saving moment will pass you by.  No wonder John had enemies.  It is blunt truth often deemed to pleasant for a people accustomed to the lies of sin.

Now to be sure, John is not simply a fire and brimstone preacher.  For he calls us not to the Law and to a repentance born of human deeds of righteousness.  John is a preacher of the Gospel.  The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.  God is coming.  God will deliver His people.  God is acting to keep His promise.  The wilderness echoes with the some of a promise enfleshed in the One who was and who now is.  Pay attention.  The day of salvation is here.

You, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God,  whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,  to guide our feet into the way of peace.  So sang Zechariah when he got his voice back.  John was not to fit in but to stand out and in standing out to point not to Himself but to Jesus. 

God raised up a prophet to go before His Son, to prepare His way, to give knowledge of salvation to His people, by the forgiveness of their sins, all because of the tender mercy of God and not out of His desire to condemn us.  We who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death have been brought to the light of life.  What is left for us except to repent, believe, and rejoice.  Yes, and one more thing.  For we are not called not to fit in but to stand out, pointing not to our righteousness but the righteousness of Christ we wear by baptism, and to speak, not the voice of condemnation or fear, but of hope.  Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here!

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