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Nativity of St. John the Baptizer
St. Luke 1.57-80
Vicar Andrew Keller
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I’m sure many of us have asked, “Why does the church have Divine Service on June 24th, which this year falls in the middle of the week, to celebrate the Nativity of John the Baptist?” While trying to prepare for this sermon, I came across a quote from one of Dr. Martin Luther’s sermons, which was helpful to understand why we come together on this day. Luther wrote, “This feast of St. John the Baptizer is not observed for his sake, but for the sake of his office. For (as we heard his father, Zachariah, say concerning this son) John is praised because he draws people unto Christ and into Christ. Therefore, this festival is not so much about John as it is about Christ Himself. So also his festival is nothing but an honor and praise of Christ.”
John, who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of our Lord, is the prophet foretold by God in Isaiah 40, “A voice cries: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” John was not the Promised One. He was not the one to save us from our sins and free us from Satan. Rather, he was significant as the last of the Old Testament prophets, who would go before the Lord to prepare His way. He proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as well as preaching about the nearing of the kingdom of God. He became the link between the Old and New Testaments, because he, unlike the prophets before him, witnessed the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Messiah, thus shifting his office from prophet to preacher and minister of Jesus as the Christ.
The Festival of the Nativity of John the Baptizer reminds us that God keeps His Word of Scripture to His people. For as John’s ministry was foretold and fulfilled, the even greater fulfillment is in Christ, whose way John prepared. This is the reason we celebrate 6 months before Christmas, the day when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary. The Incarnation, when the true God became true man, is so great event that we kneel at the words “and was made man” in the Creed. But why was it necessary? Sin has corrupted the world since the Fall in the garden of Eden. Man rejected the gifts of God, given freely and abundantly. Adam and Eve sought to stand in the place of God, and fell. From that time on, the heart of man rebelled against God. As Adam and Eve, Abraham, the prophets, and John the Baptizer were mired in sin, so are we today. We do not fear, love and trust in God above all things. We do not love our neighbors as ourselves. We hold our own desires of earthly things such as money, power, and leisure to be more important than God’s Word and His promises. We look in disdain at what He has provided with us, greedily wanting more. Our original sin would have us abandon God and His gifts. Apart from God, however, we would be destined for eternal punishment.
God, in His infinite love and mercy, continued to care for His creation. He promised a Savior, the Messiah, to Adam and Eve, would crush the head of sin, death and the devil and set His people free. This Messiah, John heralded as, “the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sin of the world. Jesus, true God and true man, was incarnate to redeem His people from their sins. He willingly came forth into the world, willingly suffered and willingly died on behalf of a people who willingly rejected Him, that they might have eternal life. On the cross, He crushed Satan’s head, defeating him and all his powers eternally. Even death could not hold Christ, for on the third day, He rose again from the dead, that all who believe in Him would have eternal life.
So then, John’s baptism was the forerunner of the baptism we receive, in which we were given the Triune Name of God and received forgiveness of sins. For through baptism we have been crucified with Christ that with daily contrition and repentance, our Old Adam, who rebels against God, dies daily. Having died with Christ, we too will rise with Christ, both daily, as a new man emerges in innocence and blessedness, and eternally, when our eyes open on the Last Day and we step forth from the grave to live with Him forever. All this is ours through our Lord, Jesus Christ, whom John the Baptizer confessed and preached. Therefore, with John, we confess Jesus alone to be the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” through whom we have eternal life.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.