Nobody welcomes a voice like John. Herod cringed when he heard the voice of John like a rabid dog biting away at his sins. We don’t like John either. We live in fear of things that ruin our Christmases and our happiness. Things like COVID and economic uncertainty and bad weather. We live for the moment. John’s voice is the voice pointing us to eternity. John is trying to help us awaken to and prepare for the last day.
Because of this, John notices things we would forget – the inconvenient truths of our lives. Like Herod living in a sinful relationship with his brother’s wife. It would have been fine with Herod if John would have spoken about this in private but Herod could not abide John’s airing in public of his private sin. It might have been easier for Herod if John would have said he personally hated to mention this but regretted that he must. Yet John showed no hesitance about holding Herod’s feet to the fire just as John refused to pretend that Herod was not living in sin.
This is why we would all prefer that John’s voice go away and not ruin our Christmases and our happiness by remembering things we want to forget or mentioning the unmentionables we would like to pretend were not there. We want a Christmas without judgment but John has come to announce and to prepare us for the judgment that counts – the judgment of God.
Would you invite John to your Christmas dinners, to your holiday celebrations, to your family gatherings, and to your private moments. I will warn you – John does not want to come and be silent or hide or pretend. John comes to announce to you what none of you wants to hear – even amid the warm family gatherings, the rich food, the sentiment of the moment, the surprise of gifts, and the memories waiting to be made. Yet that is exactly what the Lord is asking of you today. Invite John.
Would you smile while your children skipped to their doom? Would you turn the other way while your spouse or parents went merrily on their way to destruction? Of course not. We would find a way to confront the painful truth – for the sake of love. And it is for the sake of love that God sent John as a voice into the wilderness of our sin and into the darkness of our death. John makes uncomfortable the people who have found comfort and ease in their sins, in the death sin has wrought, and in hiding all of this bad news behind the mask of lies that says we are fine.
John is not asking you to be self-righteous in exposing the sins of others while living the lie of your own goodness. John is not telling you to be arrogant or rude. John is calling everyone to repentance. John is speaking the honest voice of love because God loves you and asking you to hear this voice of love because you love God. John does not exclude anyone from this call to repentance – certainly not himself. He is under the same condemnation of the law and he is called to make straight the way of the Lord in his own life – even as he calls out to all of Israel.
But before you shut your ears and presume pastor is angry or God is unfair or John is the most unpleasant voice of all to interrupt our imaginary holidays and happiness, listen again. John is not the one you have to please and you certainly don’t have to prove anything to me. But you are accountable to God. While John offered a baptism conditioned upon repentance, Jesus has baptized you with the water that bestows forgiveness. While John was asking people to straighten up their crooked lives, Jesus has come with the Spirit to help us amend our sinful lives and make straight the way of the Lord in our own personal corner of this earth.
This call to repentance will not ruin anything of Christmas that our sin has not already ruined but it will rescue our Christmases from dreams that are not real and from pretend holidays in which we make nice not only in front of each other but in front of God. This call to repentance is a gift – the gift of love from the God who loved us enough to give up His only Son to be our Savior. This call to repentance is a promise – the promise that sins confessed will be erased in the blood of Christ and mentioned no more. This call to repentance is hope – the hope of a life made new in which we are not destined to live in the muck of our dirt but as a clean people washed in baptismal water and cleansed anew by the absolution of our sins.
My friends, it is not that hard to admit that our world is a mess, that our lives are a shambles, that our anger has cut like a knife, that our pride has been our downfall, that our sins are real, and that without God’s help, the future is destruction. Every one knows that – even if they pretend not to know it. But God has entered our messy world, to rescue broken lives, to release us from anger and bitterness, to break down pride and teach the humility of faith, to admit and confess our sins so we might be forgiven, and to enjoy the honesty of a real hope, laid in a manger, nailed to a cross, and risen from the dead.
This call to repentance is the best gift God could give us. For hidden in the pain of this confession of our sins, is the God who loves sinners, lives with them, dies for them, rises to give them eternal life.
So for you who hear John’s call and who mourn the load of sin, the lives of regret, the pain of broken relationships, the hurt of words that should not have been spoken, the failure to speak what should have been said, and your failings to spouse, parents, children, friends, and neighbors, the Savior has come for you. He comes with healing for your wounds, hope for your despair, forgiveness for your sins, life for your death, and peace for your fearful hearts. Make straight the way for Him.
Make your way straight through the confession of your sins to the joy of the absolution. Make your way straight through the silence to listen to the voice of the God who loves you more than anyone can love you. Make your way straight to the table where He feeds you upon the body and blood of His only begotten Son. For the hurt to end and the hope to begin, repent and rejoice. Nothing will last forever except what God has prepared for you and all who love His appearing. Nothing of your pain or regret or sorrow or hurt will last but His love for you will never fade away. Our Christmas hope rests not in building a memory but in meeting our God with a clear conscience through repentance and forgiveness, in looking toward a future and not rekindling a past, and in rejoicing in a future bigger than any of us could ever image. Make straight your way to this and you will never be disappointed. Amen.