When A Precious Moments' Faith Is Shattered

Text: John 1:19-28  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

When I was a child, I was given a Precious Moments Bible.  It was a King James Translation of the Bible with Precious Moments drawings scattered throughout the scriptures. Now, if you are unfamiliar with Precious Moments, they are collectible porcelain figurines with enormous eyes and angelic expressions.  For the Precious Moment Bible, though, all the illustrations through the Bible were done just like the porcelain figurines. In other words, the Biblical characters were drawn with childlike figures.  The prophets, angels, or people of the New Testament all had huge eyes, big smiles, and virtuous expressions.  

Now, please understand me clearly; it is important to be sympathetic to the little ones in the church.  There is much in the Bible that would be too much for little ones to handle in their early years.  And the reason why?  Well, if we were to rate the Bible using MPAA movie ratings, the Bible would not be Rated G or even PG, and it certainly would not be Rated PG-13, but it would be Rated R. To the point, though, while we must always be sensitive to the little ones in our midst, we must not give way to the mistake of seeing the Bible as a nice little book for nice people about nice folks who said and did nice things, where everything leads to a nice and happy ending.  

Take the first book in the Bible - the book of Genesis - for example. It is likely that many people have Precious Moment images in their minds when they think about the Book of Genesis. They most likely picture God creating the world, Adam and Eve frolicking in the Garden of Eden, Noah gathering cute little animals onto the ark and God putting a beautiful rainbow in the sky, Abraham and Sarah having a baby in their old age, and Joseph wearing his coat of many colors. Nice.

But here’s what’s in the Bible: 

In the beginning, a man and woman stand naked and ashamed, blaming each other for what they did wrong.

An angry and envious man lures his brother into a field, brutally murders him, and then tries to cover it up.

The world becomes so corrupt and violent that God decides to virtually wipe out the human population and start over.

Noah gets drunk, and one of his sons dishonors him by committing an immoral act in his bedroom.

Abraham twice tries to pass his wife off to another man to save his own skin. Later, his son Isaac does the same thing.

Abraham sleeps with one of the household servants so he can have an heir. This was his wife’s idea, but she becomes so jealous after it happens that she angrily throws the woman and her son out of the house to live in poverty and shame.

Lot offers to let a violent mob do what they want with his daughters. Lot’s daughters later get their own father drunk and commit an immoral act with him so that they can have children.

Jacob, Isaac’s son, is a deceitful mama’s boy who tricks his father and brother out of important family legal rights. He has to run away from home so his brother won’t kill him.

Jacob’s wives live in constant jealousy and competition, continually tricking Jacob and each other in an ongoing battle for supremacy in the family.

Jacob’s sons loathe one of their brothers, sell him into slavery, then lie to their father and tell him he died.

Jacob’s daughter Leah is severely taken advantage of. Her brothers exact revenge by deceiving and then murdering the perpetrator, destroying and looting his city, and taking all his family members captive.     

Judah refuses to find a husband for his widowed daughter-in-law, Tamar. So she disguises herself as a lady of the night and tricks her father-in-law into an immoral act, and becomes pregnant. [1]

Now, what does this have to do with today’s service and the Fourth Sunday of Advent?  

Well, every year during the Season of Advent, we encounter crazy old man John the Baptist.  And as we encounter John, there is just no way to depict John as a Precious Moment figurine.  John has wild hair, a stern glare, weird clothing, eats grass hopers, and shouts out a jarring message of repentance.  And so, John has a way of jarring us out of the holiday buzz.  He has a way of bringing the North American Church back to reality.  He takes us out of the nostalgic and sometimes superficial Christmas spirit to sober us up. John has a way of smashing our porcelain view of life.   

You see, I am afraid that much of North America views Christmas as a mythological story.  That is to say; it is easy to shift the story of the birth of Jesus, along with the angels, shepherds, and wise men, to the realm of a fictitious story rooted in nostalgic holiday feelings.  We can think of it in a Precious Moment way.  However, John the Baptist dislodges us from this temptation; he pokes our big eyes, wipes the big smiles off our faces, and rattles our virtuous expressions. 

Furthermore, it is important to understand this morning that John the Baptist was not out in the wilderness baptizing half-a-dozen people. It wasn’t as if John gathered a bunch of family and friends to watch him splash a little water in the Jordan – you know, how family members will all attend an event to support a relative, even if they don’t want to be there.  Dear friends, John’s ministry was no small potatoes.  It was not an insignificant event.  But rather, John was baptizing thousands upon thousands of people in the Jordan River.  His message was shouted out for all to hear. John’s message of repentance brought people to the reality of their sin and into the dirty Jordan River for a real baptism so that they would be ready for a real Savior that would really die and rise for the real forgiveness of sins for the entire human race.  

And so, what this means is that John’s message is just as important for you and me to hear today as it was for those in the past.  We especially need the voice of John the Baptist during the Season of Advent to break through the Christmas glitter; to pierce through the holiday glimmer; to warn us not to be a shaken reed; to drive us to repentance of our sins and to prepare our hearts and minds for the real Savior who was really born in Bethlehem and would really bleed and die to accomplish salvation for the real sins that we commit.  

And perhaps we could leave it at that! Today is about hearing the voice in the wilderness calling loudly, urgently, and with a bit of agitation that all mankind should make straight and level the way of the Lord.  Jesus was about to start His ministry, to come to Israel, and the people were to be prepared to receive the Messiah by sincere repentance.  Salvation was right before them in flesh and blood - in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  And the same is true for you and me this Advent Season.    

Dear friends, listen carefully! The Son of God came to earth and put on human flesh so that He could really walk in your shoes.  The birth of Jesus is not some theological fiction.  It is not some myth.  It is not some Precious Moment’s event.  God put on real flesh and blood and was born of a real woman in a real stinky cave with real stinky animals and laid in a real dirty manger to accomplish real salvation for real sinners like you and me. In other words, Christmas is not merely a commemoration of the birth of Jesus – some big birthday party with glitter and lights, but it is the recognition that the Lord God was not content to leave you and me in our sins.

And so, today, we hear the message of John the Baptist yet again - loud and clear! 

“I’m thunder in the desert crying out to you: make the road straight for God. Get ready for  the coming of the Lord! Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”  

Yes, Baptized Saints, beat your chest, confess your sins, and return to your baptisms in repentance so that you are ready for the news of Christmas this week – a real story that takes you from the manger to the cross and from the cross to the empty tomb, and from the empty tomb to eternal life.  

Indeed, if you wish to hear the message of Christmas later this week - repent! For this is the role of John the Baptist this Advent Season.  John’s message comes to you from the Word, from the wilderness, and this pulpit so that you are prepared for Bethlehem, the stable, the manger, and the Son of God who put on real flesh and was really born for you and me.  

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

[1] This whole section was taken (and edited) from an old blog post titled “The Bible is Rated R.”  The blog no longer exists.  

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