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John The Baptist Sermon
Luke 1:57-80
June
24, 2018

 

Sermon Archives
 

 

The Birth of John the Baptist

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.
On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’
The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

Welcome to worship on the second Sunday of Advent! Wait a minute … this can’t be advent. We’re three-fourths of the way through June! Christmas Eve is exactly a half a year away! Well, today is the date that the Christian church has designated to commemorate John the Baptist’s birthday. Most important heroes of the faith – called Saints – are commemorated on the date of their death, especially if they are martyrs. John was definitely one of those, having been beheaded by Herod Antipas (son of Herod the Great) for denouncing Antipas’ marriage to Herodias, the wife of his still-living brother, Philip. The Jewish historian, Josephus, reports that in order to marry his brother’s wife, Antipas divorced his first wife, the daughter of King Aretas of Damascus. Aretas then made war on Herod Antipas which, many devout Jews believed, was a punishment from God for Herod’s murder of the prophet John.

And John was considered a prophet by the Jewish people. Even if they did not accept Jesus’ messiahship, they recognized John as someone special. Legend has it that he was raised in the wilderness, probably in the Qumran community. Ritual bathing and copying down the words of the Old Testament Prophets were important parts of this community. It is for these reasons that John came baptizing people in the river Jordan, and that the Qumran community were responsible for creating and storing the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves where they lived, which would be found centuries later by a wandering shepherd boy.

But we are remembering John’s birth today, a birth which is recorded in Luke’s gospel. Think about these things in relation to John’s and Jesus’ birth: We celebrate Jesus’ birth December 25 and John’s six month earlier, June 24. The appearance of Gabriel to Mary is nine months prior to his birth, March 25 and is called, “The Day of the Annunciation.” The appearance of Gabriel to Zechariah is celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox churches as September 23. Now think about these dates and their implications for those Christians living in the northern hemisphere. John is the last voice of the Old Testament, the close of the recorded Jewish prophets. Jesus ushers in a new age of God’s presence in the world. John was born to an old couple, barren, when it is too late for them to have children. Jesus is born to a young virgin, when she is really too young to have a child. John is announced and conceived at the autumnal equinox, when the leaves are dying and falling from the trees. Jesus is announced and conceived at the vernal equinox, when the green buds are bursting forth on the trees and there are signs of new life everywhere. John is born when the days are longest, and from here out, the days will grow steadily shorter. Jesus is born when the days are shortest, and from his birth on they grow steadily longer in length of daylight.

What does all of this mean? First of all, I believe that these people actually lived and interacted and did God’s will, mostly as described in our Holy Scriptures. But I am just as sure that John was not born on June 24 as I am that Jesus was not actually born on December 25! These dates are important to us not because of their historical truth, but because of what they stand for on the calendar. We are in the season of growth, the green season, of the church year. These Sundays following Pentecost are filled with stories of Jesus’ parables and healings, his teachings and his interactions with everyone from the common folks to the Jewish leadership of the day. This one day we take a step back from all of that and put white on the altar to honor the one who came to proclaim Jesus. In proclaiming Jesus, John not only warned people of a man born six months after he was; he prepared the way for God’s kingdom to break into the world in love and in grace.

It is too simple to state that the Old Testament is all law and the New Testament is all grace. That is not our Lutheran theology, after all. There is law and grace found within both Old and New Testaments. The key difference between the two testaments – or covenants – is Jesus. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Elijah and John play key roles in pointing people to God’s presence in their sinfulness and in their suffering. Jesus is the healer, the miracle worker, the one who is the very word of God made flesh. In from the moment that he was born, God has interacted in this world in a new and fresh way.

That is what John’s birth is all about. It is a hope-filled event, not only for a faithful elderly couple who never thought that they would have a child, but for a faithful, beaten down people living in an occupied land and wondering if God had forgotten them. No, God had not forgotten them. And no, God has not forgotten those today who experience the same kind of treatment from the world that those first century Jews received from both their Roman occupiers and their King Herods, who were more concerned with their own power, riches and pleasure than the well-being of their people.

Folks, John the Baptist breaks into our summer with the same message to us. When our political powers don’t seem to be too concerned with real people, real families and are more concerned with their own governance, we trust that somehow God is at work … or if it doesn’t seem like God is at work, God is raising up leaders to do his work. Maybe it is you young people who will be in the presence of 30,000 others in Houston this week. Maybe the music and the Bible studies and the speakers and the community life will inspire you to use your life for something special. You don’t have to be a pastor or professional church worker. Most of those 30,000 will not become ordained. But we go into this week believing the promise that is the theme of our gathering; This Changes Everything! The Bible theme for the gathering is Ephesians 2:8, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; It is the gift of God.”

Just as John prepared the way for God’s presence in Jesus, so he now prepares all of us to be loved and to love in new ways through Jesus Christ. No matter where you go this week – whether it is to the hot, humid Texas city of Houston, or just to the grocery store or work – know that John has prepared all of us for our encounters with the living Christ, and we are joyful in that promise. For it is that promise that changes everything! May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.