Sermon for Advent 3B, preached on Sunday, December 17, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him (Jn 1:6-7).
Jesus Christ is the Light of the world, … the light no darkness can overcome. Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening,…and the day is almost over. Let Your light scatter the darkness…and illumine your Church. These are the opening versicles of Evening Prayer, chanted back and forth between pastor and congregation. From the very beginning of this daily prayer office it’s easy to see the theme of light and darkness, and this makes sense. The sun has set and darkness surrounds us. This darkness can be frightening. We can’t see, we can’t make out the shapes and shadows off in the distance. But this blinding darkness isn’t what terrifies our souls. The darkness that does that is the darkness of our sin and death. This is the darkness that Christ, the Light of the world, has overcome.
John the Baptist bore witness to this Light. He was the forerunner sent to point God’s people to Jesus, something he physically would do just one verse following our Gospel reading. “[Seeing] Jesus coming toward him, [John] said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). His job was to direct people to their Savior, and he did this faithfully, always pointing away from himself. John wasn’t the One, he wasn’t the Light, he was only a voice.
Last week we heard John’s words, words of repentance. Out in the wilderness he proclaimed a baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This message drew a crowd. People went out to see him and the religious leaders took notice. They sent men to question John, “Who are you?” John’s response was clear and concise. He confessed, “I am not the Christ” (Jn 1:20). His answer directed away from him. Instead of explaining who he was, it was more important to say who he wasn’t. He wasn’t God’s Anointed One, the One who’d take away his people’s sin; the Light who’d illuminate the dark world. He was only a voice that proclaimed the coming of the One who would do all these things.
Jesus is the Christ. He’s God’s Anointed One. He’s the Light, and He’s the One who fulfills all God’s prophecies and promises, promises of life and light.
The prophet Isaiah said, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;” (Is 61:1-2). The prophet wasn’t saying this about himself, but about the Messiah.
Near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when He went back to Nazareth, he stood in the synagogue and read these words from Isaiah. And then, sitting down He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk 4:21). Jesus is the one who fulfills Isaiah’s words. He is sent to proclaim the Good News of the Lord, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, because He’s the one who brings that favor. He overcomes your sin that sets you against God.
Our hearts are filled with the darkness of sin. We want to sin. We want to put ourselves before everyone else, including God. That’s what sin is, a perverse turning inward upon ourselves, and this sets us against God. It makes us His enemies. We don’t love Him. We don’t care to hear His Word. And we most definitely don’t have a desire to follow His commands, because His commands are directed outwards in love and service to others, but we only want to love and serve ourselves. For this disobedience, we rightly deserve death, everlasting death.
Because of our sin the darkness of death overshadows us. No matter what we do, we can’t escape it. We stand before God guilty, deserving His vengeance...and yet, He sent His Son to proclaim His favor, because Christ received this vengeance in your place.
Born on Christmas Day to die on Good Friday, Jesus took the guilt of your sin upon Himself. He carried it to the cross in love and service for you. While our hearts are only filled with the darkness of self-love, Christ loves you. Everything He did, He did for you, so that your sins may be forgiven, so that your guilt may be taken away, so that you may live in God’s favor, in the light of Christ forever.
This light you receive in your baptism. In this water Sacrament you receive the forgiveness Christ earned for you on the cross. The sin and guilt that darkens your heart is illuminated and you receive a new heart, an enlightened heart. This is why the newly baptized receives a candle lit from the Christ candle. As the pastor passes the candle to the baptized he says: Receive this burning light to show that you have received Christ who is the Light of the world. Live always in the light of Christ, and be ever watchful for His coming, that you may meet Him with joy and enter with Him into the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which shall have no end.
Baptized, forgiven, and with faith, we don’t want to live in the darkness of our sin and death, we want to live in Christ’s light. That’s our prayer, that He’d enlighten the darkness of our hearts by His visitation.
But what it mean to live in the light? It means we don’t live in the darkness of sin; it means we try to live righteous lives according to God’s commands.
St. Paul wrote, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true),” (Eph 5:8-9). Living in Christ’s light means we try to live righteous lives according to God’s Law. It means we’re not turned inward on ourselves. It means we rejoice and give thanks for all the blessings our Lord has given to us. It means we worship Him, listen to His Word, and come to Him in prayer. It means we love and serve all those around us, fulfilling the second table of the commandments. It means living the sanctified holy lives God’s given us. And it means we repent and turn to Christ when we fail to do so.
When we sin, we naturally want to cover it up, to hide it away in the dark, but in doing so, we place ourselves right back into the shadows of death. Christ died so that you wouldn’t be in the dark, so repent and receive His light, His forgiveness and His life. Turn to Christ and listen to the Good News He proclaims: You’re forgiven.
I must admit, I’m usually a scrooge when it comes to decorating for Christmas; not because I don’t like Christmas or the decorations, but because of all the lights on pre-lit Christmas trees that never work. They’re so frustrating...and yet, there’s a value in struggling to get them working, because they serve as a reminder. The lights on our trees and houses, are reminders of Christ, the true Light of the world that no darkness can overcome. His light never goes out. Christ’s light overcomes your sin and death. This light you’ve received in your baptism, so live in it. Live in the light of Christ and not the darkness of sin. In Jesus’ name...Amen.