Are we going backwards? Last Sunday John was in jail. The two Sundays before that we were in Holy Week hearing about the last things and joining Jerusalem’s loud cries of Hosanna! But no, we aren’t going backward, we’re just closing in on Christmas. The Liturgy is bringing us from this present time closer in to that most holy night in which Christ Our Lord was born. It’s like going down an escalator.
So today we see St. John the Baptist along the River Jordan. But we aren’t here to focus on him. We’re here to let him point us away from himself to Jesus, The Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world. We’re here to hear him tell the world that it is unworthy of Jesus. Yes, we are unworthy of Him.
We’re unworthy of Him? At the end of this week we’ll sing (TLH 85:13):
Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child, Make Thee a bed, soft, undefiled, Within my heart, that it may be A quiet chamber kept for Thee.
Why do you sing that? Because by nature your heart is not a quiet chamber kept for Him. He would find there a hard, defiled bed, a heart that serves sin and Satan. That heart is hindered by the Antarctic ice of sin, ice far worse than what we had yesterday, from doing anything good in God’s sight. That heart is not worthy of Christ. That heart needs to be straightened out.
The sinful heart is not worthy of Christ. It is not prepared for Him. It’s a crooked thing, which means God sees a sinner like we see a crook. Even if a crook is reformed, we still see him in a bad light; we think he’s bound to do something bad any time now – in fact, we might never admit a crook had done anything right.
That’s how God looks at sinners. He sees us as people who can’t do anything right. He sees us as people who are so corrupted with sin that we can’t help it. It’s all we can do. We can try to do what is right, but when sinners try to do what’s right, it’s always with the wrong motives: trying to earn something from God or others, trying to make ourselves look better than others. Sin is a vicious cycle that keeps the sinner down and out, that makes him crooked as can be, unable to find the straight way to holiness and perfection.
How can you be straightened out then? How can you become pure and undefiled? How can you become worthy of Christ? This can only happen when He stirs up His power and comes with great might to help you with His grace. The only reason you’ve ever been able to repent of a sin is because He comes to you. He comes to you to lead you to be sorry for your sin and desire to do better. He comes to you to tell you your sin is forgiven.
But we need proof. We need things, tangible things, to remind us of this and teach it to us – we’re physical beings who physically sin, which means we need to not just hear God’s forgiveness but we need to have it physically applied to us. How does He do that? How has He applied it and given it to us? John was proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Jesus gave you His forgiveness when you were baptized. But how can Baptism give you God’s forgiveness? How can it save you, give you new life free from sin, make you God’s own dear child? How can it do any of those things? It makes no sense to our mortal brains! How can it forgive sins, rescue from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation? There’s nothing like it in all creation! It can’t be!
But it is so. “How can water do such great things? Certainly not just water, but The Word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trust this Word of God in the water. For without God’s Word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with The Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in The Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three: ‘He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by The Holy Spirit, Whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying.’” So in response we sing (LSB 406:7):
All that the mortal eye beholds Is water as we pour it. Before the eye of faith unfolds The pow’r of Jesus’ merit. For here it sees the crimson flood To all our ills bring healing; The wonders of His precious Blood The love of God revealing, Assuring His own pardon.
So we can look ahead to Christmas with joy. Whenever God comes, He comes to judge. When He came down from heaven, mankind should have expected Him to judge them for their sins. They had no reason to expect anything else if they knew Who He is and recognized their sins. God rises to judgment. Why should man have expected any different from The Flood when He came down from heaven?
Because He came down to judge Himself guilty of our sins. That means He came down to judge us innocent of our sins. He accomplished that when He suffered for them all upon The Cross. Lambs had been sacrificed on Passover night that the angel of death might pass over Israel. Now God’s Lamb is sacrificed that the angel of death might pass over you. The lamb’s blood on the doorframes signaled the angel not to enter. Christ’s Blood on you by means of Baptism tells death it cannot take you to hell, but must give you to Jesus.
So rejoice! Christmas is coming. The womb of The Virgin is soon going to bring forth salvation in the person of The Savior. The heavens will declare the glory of God as the angels sing “Glory be to God on high and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” Your Help and Deliverer will come. He is coming even now to give you His mercy and satisfaction. He is satisfied with you because He has forgiven your sins. He is satisfied. He looks on you with favor. He loves you.
That’s what Christmas is all about. It’s not about the gifts you’ll get from others or the gifts you’ll give to others. It’s about Jesus. It’s about the joy He gives us, the joy of sins forgiven. The only Christmas gift that in the end amounts to anything is this: Your Jesus took on your flesh to give you eternal joys. So speak the praise of The Lord and bless His holy Name! Rejoice!