Nativity of St. John the Baptist
Let me begin by saying this morning:
Don’t panic. I know you don’t have your
Christmas shopping done. You probably
haven’t even started. But everything is
ok. You have plenty of time. It’s not a
week or two until Christmas.
It’s true that our hymn of the day that
we just sang, “When All the World Was Cursed,” is an Advent hymn that we
normally sing on the Third or Fourth Sunday of Advent. During the Communion distribution we are
going to sing “On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry” which is more of the same.
But its ninety degrees outside, and winters in southern Illinois are never that mild. It is in fact June and not December.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the
Nativity of John the Baptist. And while
this day falls at the end of June, the reason it does so involves
December. Christmas, the Feast of the
Nativity of our Lord, is of course, December 25. If you go nine months earlier, you have March
25, the Annunciation of Our Lord when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that
she would be pregnant with the Son of God through the work of the Holy Spirit.
At that time, Gabriel told Mary that her relative, the aged, Elizabeth was also
pregnant. In fact, it was the sixth
month of her pregnancy. Add three months
to the Annunciation and you arrive at today, the end of June as we celebrate
the birth of John the Baptist.
In the Gospel lesson for today we
hear about the naming of John who had been born to Zechariah and
Elizabeth. Luke describes them as pious
and faithful Jews – in fact Zechariah was from the priestly line and served in
the temple when it was his turn. Yet in
spite of this, they had not been able to have any children. Their prayers had remained unanswered for
many years. Now they were both old, and
Sarah was long past her child bearing years.
As Zechariah was serving in the
temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and announced, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for
your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and
you shall call his name John.” This in itself was amazing and wonderful
news! But then the angel proceeded to
tell Zechariah that this son was going to have a unique role in God’s plan of
salvation. He said, “And you will have
joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great
before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be
filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many
of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in
the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the
children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the
Lord a people prepared.”
doubted the angel’s words. And so
Gabriel said that Zechariah would be unable to speak until the child was
born. In our text we hear the moment
when this occurred. At the naming of
John, Zechariah spoke. But he didn’t
just speak. He was filled with the Holy
Spirit and prophesied.
we all have hopes and dreams for our children.
We may not know exactly what they are going to do, but we want them to
have success and to live fulfilling and meaningful lives. Zechariah had no doubt about this because of
what God was doing and the role that his son John would play in this.
father announced: “"Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited
and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the
house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from
of old.” Inspired by the Holy Spirit,
Zechariah declared that Yahweh was now fulfilling the promises spoken by the
Old Testament prophets. He was sending
the Messiah – the descendant of King David who would bring redemption and
salvation to his people.
the pivotal moment in God’s saving action.
And his son John had a key role to play.
Zechariah says in our text: “And you, child, will be called the prophet
of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
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.”
was right. Some thirty years later, John
showed up in the wilderness area along the Jordan River proclaiming a baptism
of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
This baptism administered by John was unusual. The Jews were very
familiar with various ritual washings. But these were all self-administered. John was
different because he applied this
washing to others. It was so distinctive
that it soon provided the designation by which John was known: John the Baptizer.
prepared the way by calling people to repentance as they looked for the
imminent arrival of God’s kingdom – his end time reign. He declared: “I baptize you with water, but
he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy
to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing
fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into
his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
great stuff in our Gospel lesson today.
God’s miraculously blesses a faithful, aged couple with a child. He announces through Zechariah that he is
sending the Messiah descended from David to bring redemption and
salvation. We are told that John will
prepare the way for the Lord to give the knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins.
here is not as we might expect. John the Baptist called people to repentance -
all people, including the king, Herod Antipas. Luke tells us, “But Herod the
tetrarch, who had been reproved by him for Herodias, his brother's wife, and
for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he
locked up John in prison.” Jesus the Christ
was baptized by John, and began his ministry.
Miracles were done, but the Last Day didn’t arrive. And so from prison John – the prophet –
experienced confusion and doubt. He sent
the question to Jesus, “Are you the coming One, or should we look for
another.” And finally, after her
daughter performed what amounted to a pole dance for Herod, the vengeful
Herodias received the martyred John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
celebrate the birth of John the Baptist.
But while John was the great prophet who prepared the way for Jesus
Christ and the reign of God, his story also turns out to be one of confusion and
doubt; of suffering and death. We need
to ponder this, because at times our lives are too. Things don’t go as we expect and plan. There is suffering and death. These circumstances generate confusion and
doubt about God’s love and care. Perhaps
they even create anger at God as we question his ways.
situations we find ourselves tempted and falling into sin. When this happens, don’t try to explain it
away in the attempt to justify yourself.
Instead confess your sin to God.
And turn in faith to the One for whom John the Baptist prepared the
way. In Jesus, God did indeed visit and
redeem his people. Yet he did this not
only for Israel. He did it for all people. He did it for you. By Jesus’ death on the
cross and resurrection from the dead he has freed you from sin. Through baptism you have been buried with
Christ. His saving death has become
yours. And in your baptism you also have the guarantee that you will share in
Jesus’ resurrection when he returns on the Last Day.
you receive forgiveness. And in the Lord
you also have the reason that you are now able to face unexpected circumstances
- times of disappointment, suffering and death - in faith. If you look at our text, you won’t find
anything about suffering and death. When
you look at John the Baptist’s preaching, you won’t find it there either.
Christ is the One who has accomplished all that the inspired Zechariah
expresses. But he did it in the way of
the suffering Servant – he did it in the way of suffering and death. The Lord responded to John’s question from
prison by saying, “And blessed is the one who
is not offended by me.” Jesus acknowledged
that things were not going exactly as John expected.
Above all, we see this on Good
Friday. When the Son of God hung dying
on a cross, mocked by those below, it did not look like God was at work. It did not look like God was anywhere to be
found. Yet because of Christ’s
resurrection we now realize that this was actually God’s greatest action to
Because of our faith in the
crucified and risen Lord, we are now able to look at circumstances we don’t
understand – things we don’t want – and trust that God is still present and at
work in our lives. The God who worked in
unexpected ways in order to give us forgiveness and salvation can be trusted when everything about your life
seems unexpected and unwanted. This is so because you have already seen what he
did in Jesus for you and how he did it. The resurrection of Jesus is the shining
light that illuminates our darkness. He
is the great “Yes!” from God that drives away fear and doubt, even when we
Christ does this for us. And he also gives us hope. In our text Zechariah refers to 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.” Because Jesus is the
risen and ascended Lord we have hope as we look for the sunrise from on high of
the Last Day when the Lord returns in glory.
We live knowing that the times of disappointment, suffering and death will end. In confidence we look toward
the day when our risen Lord will put an end to the darkness of death forever,
and will guide our feet in the way of eternal peace.