The Fourth Sunday in Advent 2017
The Epistle – Philippians 4:4-7
The Gospel – St. John 1:19-28
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
Today John the Baptist returns to our lessons. This time the order is changed. John here today is facing the Priests and Levites, asking him who he was.
He apparently at this time had not met Jesus face to face.
Although since they are cousins and John is only 6 months
older than Jesus, we might wonder what sort of relationship the two boys had in
Mary went to visit Elizabeth right after the angel announced to her that she would be with child through the power of the Holy Spirit. They don't seem to be all that far apart, since Mary apparently can make the trip to visit her.
Elizabeth was at that time already 6 months pregnant with John.
We don't know if Jesus and John were childhood playmates, but it would seem that since John only gives the Priests and Levites and us a hint at who was to come, speculation in this area is only going to be just that…speculation.
The Bible is silent and we should not pry into God’s hidden will.
What we do know is also here in the Bible for us today.
John the Baptist is written about more by secular historians of the 1st century than is written about Jesus.
John had come at a time when the expectations of a coming Messiah had been heightened.
Something had given the people an idea that God was going to work again soon.
Now this could be in part because John was on the scene…publicly preaching…publicly teaching…publicly denouncing at times government leaders and their misdeeds.
So John might have added to if not ignited such a heightened sense of God’s coming presence.
They ask John, since they are trying to figure out just who he is. Is he a prophet like those of old?
Yes. He is the last of the Old Testament Prophets.
There has been about 400 years of silence on the part of God and His visible activities on this scale.
Things had been “normal” for generations. Now, here comes John. He is talking like one of the Old Prophets.
But he is not exactly like the Old Prophets. He is closing out the old and bringing in the new.
By his message John the Baptist is ringing in the transition….out with the old and in with the new.
He is the foreclosure of the old and the forerunner of the new.
He is calling the people to repentance. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”
All of the preparatory elements needed to ready the people for the arrival of the Christ…the Messiah.
His message was that history had now reached its climax. The long-awaited Messiah was not any more in the distance. He was at hand. He was at the door.
And further, His arrival would mean judgment. Thus the urgency for people to repent and be baptized in the Lord and be saved….saved from the coming wrath of God and judgment on all ungodliness.
The people of Israel needed to now get ready. This is what John’s baptism was about. Cleansing the people of God …who had grown unclean through centuries of sin and rebellion against God.
Now they were to undergo baptism…a ritual that the Jews had used up to this point to bring in the Gentiles.
John was calling on them to submit to the same ritual for they had grown so separated from God and so corrupt that they practically qualified as outsiders.
John was not a priest or a Levite. And yet he was baptizing people. This might be partly why it was the Priests and Levites who paid him a visit.
This man is taking it upon himself to not only condemn us as sinners and outsiders. He is calling us to be baptized like outsiders. He is telling us that the Messiah is coming and we must be ready.
So, they are persistent in asking John who he was.
And his answer is, “I am not the Christ.” Meaning ….I am not the Messiah.
“I am not Elijah.”
“I am not the Prophet.”
He was very emphatic that he was not the Christ.
He was not Elijah.
Now, the last prophet of the Old Testament is Malachi. He says there near the end of his book in part,
“For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.  But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings…..
 “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (ESV)
So here is the reference of the Great Day of the LORD coming…and on that day, or just before that day, Elijah would come to announce it. John came announcing the message as they understood him doing. John is behaving just like the scriptures describe…
But he says he is not Elijah. He was in the sense that he was announcing the coming of Messiah. But he was not the actual Elijah.
Jesus would later tell His audiences that John the Baptist was Elijah.
But they both had different meanings when they said it.
Elijah and John are two different persons.
John would fulfill an Elijah-like role in that he would go forth to the people in the spirit of Elijah.
So John was not Elijah reincarnated, he was an Elijah of sorts in that he fulfilled the role of the one who would announce the Great Day of the Lord.
Then they want to know whether he is “The Prophet.”
By this they meant, are you the one who was spoken of in Deuteronomy? Are you the one whom God said would be like Moses.
God said I will raise up a prophet like you from among their brethren, and I will put my word in His mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command Him.” (Deut 18:18)
John again says “no” he is that that prophet.
“Who are you then so that we may give an answer?”
John says, quoting Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight the way of the Lord.’”
A good choice on the part of John. This reflected his mission perfectly.
Isaiah predicted that before Messiah would come into the world he would send a messenger before him to proclaim his coming to the people.
Make the path for the coming Messiah straight, wide, free of debris. Fill in the holes. Knock down the bumps.
And this today is where we apply this to ourselves. Or this is how we fit into this passage. We should be able to see why this is an Advent lesson for us on the eve of Christmas.
John was sent ahead of Christ to tell the people of His coming. He heralded the coming Messiah.
He did not take any special titles unto himself. He pointed away to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
He warned that at His coming, things would be drastically different from then on. The people of God had been without a sign for about 400 years.
God had chosen, at this time, to step back into the flow of history and bring final and ultimate salvation…and this time to the very ends of the earth with the coming of Jesus.
All men are now called to this salvation.
And we, today, in this age, have been given this same promise of the return of Christ and salvation in His name.
We have the benefit of reading about John’s first warning.
The voice crying in the wilderness still cries to us today.
We too must be ready to hear his call, and stand ready to meet the Lord Jesus when He comes.
John warned the people of his day because they were the people of God who had gone astray.
We too, as people of Christ have gone astray and yet have been called back into the fold.
He comes to us as justified and yet still sinful. Redeemed and yet awaiting final redemption.
So let us on this eve of the coming of the savior Christ, think about John the Baptist and his message.
We too are to make the path of our hearts and our lives straight for the coming of our Lord again. A life of faith and readiness is what He desires to find when He comes.
Rejoice in the Lord always…Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand…So come Immanuel…God with us. And take us unto thyself.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.