Why We Need To Be Blindsided Before Christmas




Text: Matthew 11:2-11 and Isaiah 40:1-8


In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Your plans have gone smoothly up to this point, for the most part.  The tree went up without any major problems; the Christmas lights were untangled with ease.  You even got your Christmas cards printed off without much of a hassle, and sent them off.  Everything is going as planned; the Christmas Season is blossoming with ease and grace.  That is until you came to church this morning and heard our Old Testament reading, as well as the Gospel reading with that crazy man, John the Baptist! 
I know what you are thinking: do we have to ponder John the Baptist today?  I mean, can’t we skip over John the Baptist and his stern voice?  Do we have to ruin the holiday festivity by hearing the voice in the wilderness crying out,
“Make straight in the desert a highway for your God!”?
There is no doubt about it that John the Baptist is that stern preacher prophesied from the Old Testament.  He is the unyielding prophet that came before the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  And he is that New Testament figure who the church examines every year approximately two to three Sundays before the birth of Jesus. 
At first glance, it seems odd.  You and I are getting all the decorations set, and our emotions fixated on that sentimental poor baby born in a stable, lying in the manger.  And then out of nowhere, we are blindsided by this New Testament prophet with his wild hair, stern glare, weird attire, and jarring message of repentance.  He is like the Grinch who stole Christmas, for he seems to throw a wrench into the holiday cheer by saying:
“Repent, the kingdom of God is at hand.”
So, this morning, we find ourselves at this awkward point.  We have a temptation to skirt around John the Baptist.  Or, we want to change John, so that he won’t preach Law to us.  In the name of relevancy or in the spirit of modernizing the faith, we want to make John into a cushy preacher who will suit our fancy. 
Truth be told, though, in spite of our spiritually weak spines, we desperately need the voice in the wilderness – we need John the Baptist.    
Think about it this way, my friends.  During the Advent and Christmas Season, what we do not need is another smooth-talking message.  We have plenty of these smooth talking messages trying to sell us a bill of good.  But instead, we need a voice that does not waver and does not fluctuate.  We need the voice of John the Baptist that does not sway or follow the delusions of our culture.  We need John’s message to break through the Christmas glitter; to pierce through the holiday glimmer; to warn us not to be like a shaken reed;  to drive us to repentance, and to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming Christ. 
Dear friends, remember that the pagan and unbelieving world around us shines gushy superficial Christmas cheer all over the real reason of the season.  The pagan and the unbelieving world care nothing for the spiritual aspects of Christmas, and we are easily seduced into this same mentality.  And so, this is why we need John to come to our rescue with a non-fickle-stern message: 
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!  After me comes he who is mightier than I!”
Keep in mind that the message of repentance is not exclusive to John.  It has been spoken by many in the Old Testament and New Testament.  And since Biblical times, it has been spoken by thousands in pulpits, just like this one.  In other words, it is a message that must come to people to prepare them for Jesus.  Just as John the Baptist came before Jesus, repentance needs to happen before faith.  Law needs to be preached before the Gospel.  Likewise, Advent must come before Christmas. 
CFW Walther, the first president of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, once said:
“How can faith enter a heart that has not yet been crushed?  How can a person feel hungry and thirsty while he [hates] the food set before him?  No!  If you wish to believe in Christ, you must become sick; for Christ is a Physician only for those who are sick.  [Jesus] came to seek and to save that which is lost; therefore, you must first become a lost and condemned sinner.  He is the Good Shepherd, who goes in search of the lost sheep; therefore, you must first realize that you are a lost sheep.”[1]  
What this means is that the Gospel is not good unless we first hear about the malady of our sin.  We cannot understand the assurance Mt. Calvary unless we have listened to the thunder of Mt. Sinai.  The same is true for Christmas. How can a person understand Christmas without Advent?  How can one receive Jesus without first hearing from John the Baptist?”
There is no doubt about it if you are not used to confessing your sins or, perhaps, make it a practice to hide your sins, then John the Baptist’s message will be a full blast of Law in your face.  And if you refuse to repent because of your pride, know this: you will never end up at the manger or the cross but end up in the unquenchable fire. 
However, those who repent, confess, acknowledge, and come clean with their sins, are up into the story of Christmas - a story that takes them from the manger to the cross and from the cross to the empty tomb.  In other words, Christmas is not a mere commemoration of the birth of Jesus – some big birthday party with a piƱata - but it is the recognition that the Lord God was not content to leave you and me in our sins. 
Dear friends, if you wish to hear the message of the manger and the birth of Christ for you, repent! 
This is the message of John the Baptist; this is the message of Advent. 
It is a message that comes to you every Advent; it is a message that comes to you from the Word, from the wilderness, and this pulpit.  It is a message that is needed.   
Yes, you and I are called to repentance of our sins as many as our sins that need repentance because  “The Lord is slow to give up on you [and me].  He calls you [and me] to repent again and again.  But if you [and I] insist on holding on to [our] sins – perhaps just [our] favorite one or two – and try to run with both [Jesus] and [our] sins, [well… Jesus] will put an end to that game. …  He issues a warning call to repent, to turn.  Your sins are either with Jesus or with you.”[2]
Next week and the week after, we will be traveling to Bethlehem’s stable and manger.  Even today, we lean forward towards the manger and peer in.  I suspect that as we look forward to Bethlehem, and as we lean inward on the manger, that we do so with a certain amount of guilt from John the Baptist’s bruising message.  If that is the case, we can say, “Thank God!”  Because that means we are prepared for Bethlehem, the stable, the manger, and the Christ-child.  Furthermore, Bethlehem, the stable, the manger, and the Christ-child do not meet you with condemnation.
Oh, Baptized Saints!  The good news for you is that your sins and guilt remain at Bethlehem.  They remain at the manger because Jesus entered into flesh at the manger to begin His journey to the cross. 
Today, do not make the mistake of ignoring, disregarding, and avoiding John the Baptist, but rather, hear his message for you, a message that prepares your hearts and lives in a way to receive Bethlehem, the stable, the manger, and the Christ.  And as you receive Bethlehem, the stable, and the manger, know that you are taken to the cross to hear that Jesus answered for your sins with forgiveness, life, and salvation.   
In the name of Jesus: Amen. 


[1] C.F.W. Walther The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel tr. W.H.T. Dau (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1928), 92.
[2] Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 22. 


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