Friday, December 5, 2014

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

Sermon on Mark 1:1-8
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
December 7, 2014 (The Second Sunday in Advent)

“Aren’t the Abana and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the rivers of Israel?  Why should I go wash in that muddy Jordan River?” asks Naaman the Syrian.  It really does seem a bit silly, doesn’t it.  At least to human wisdom.  Something as ordinary as water serving as the transition from sickness to health, from impurity to purity, from death to life.  And yet, here’s John, washing people in the same muddy old Jordan River in which Naaman had bathed centuries ago.  Only, now it’s not just physical, temporal and temporary healing that is at stake.  It’s eternal health, eternal life.  It’s about the forgiveness of sins, that which cleanses us not just in the sight of our fellow human beings, but which cleanses us in the sight of God.

But John isn’t the one doing the baptizing, just as Elijah wasn’t the one telling Naaman to go and wash.  Yes, it was John’s hands that were pouring the water on people’s heads, and Elijah’s mouth that was being used to tell Naaman to go and wash.  But it was God doing the speaking and the washing.  John wasn’t even worthy to untie the sandals of the Son of God who was to come.  And yet it is that same Word, who had already 30 years before this point become man, that was being spoken through John’s mouth.

John is nothing, Jesus is everything.  Your pastor is nothing, Jesus is everything.  You yourselves are nothing, Jesus is everything.  When John says that he’s not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, he’s not just saying that he’s simply of some sort of lower rank than Jesus in terms of how well he’s lived up to God’s Law.  He’s confessing his utter sinfulness and ability to come anywhere near God Himself.  When we confess our sins, we’re not just saying we’ve made a few mistakes here and there, and that God will help us fix them and become better people, we’re saying that we’re completely and totally sinful, and that even our best good works are filthy rags which do nothing for us when it comes to our relationship with God.  That’s our problem.  We do see symptoms of our spiritual leprosy in our lives.  We may be ashamed of them, or we may try to excuse or justify them, but either way they’re mere symptoms.  The terminal illness which afflicts us and which causes us to be put into the leper’s colony we call this old world, is the real problem.  Disobedience, anger, lust, covetousness, and dishonesty may be what we see in ourselves, but a born enemy of God is what we really are.

And yet, here comes John, crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.  And yet he also says he’s unworthy even to stoop down in the dust and loosen Jesus’ sandal strap.  He’s not worthy to get even that close to God.  He’s in the same boat we are, and yet he tells Jerusalem, and us, to prepare the Lord’s way.  Impossible!  But what is impossible with men is possible with God.  The remarkable, the amazing, the downright miraculous thing here is that it is God Himself who prepares the way for us to come and meet Him.  Yes, it is our hearts which need to be changed, but we simply can’t do it.  It is only Jesus who can change our hearts.  And He does so, through the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.  He is the one who baptizes us into His own death, in order that, just as Christ is risen from the dead, so we too may walk in newness of life.

And so we are prepared to receive the Lord as He meets us.  He Himself has made us ready.  Locusts and wild honey give way to His own body and blood.  And yet, even though they may not be as disgusting as locusts or as hard to get as wild honey, He also feeds us in, with, and under things that don’t seem to be all that wonderful.  A small, manufactured wafer of unleavened bread.  A tiny sip of wine, whether from a silver chalice or even a small plastic cup.  And yet, this is the food God gives us in the wilderness.  But no matter how much it may look like the sort of thing John ate, this is the food of heaven.  We have crossed over the Jordan from death into life.  We feast on the bread of heaven.  The way of God is prepared, and we who are not worthy to be close enough to unstrap His sandals have Him inside ourselves and therefore we inside of Him, for eternity.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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