Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sermon -- Nativity of St. John the Baptist (June 24, 2018)

LUKE 1:57-67

THE LORD SENDS 
HIS LONG-AWAITED GRACE.

In the name + of Jesus.

     We are not good at waiting.  We want what we want NOW.  We have been conditioned into believing that we are being insulted if we have to wait.  Go to a doctor's office and you will find a room full of people who are agitated because of the wait.  Then you go to the examination room where, again, you have to wait.  Your anger works up to a rolling boil at doctors, nurses, and receptionists who keep you waiting—as if that's what they came into work to do.  We hate waiting.  Text messages need immediate responses.  All news is breaking.  And we want our meals hot and ready. 
     Even expectant parents cannot stand the wait.  From creation up to now, the wait for a baby has been nine months.  But now, expectant parents host gender reveals for a baby which is months away from being born.  The name is chosen early.  Ultrasounds can even provide photos so that you can have baby pictures before you have the baby.
     Such advances are commonplace.  For that reason, we may have a hard time understanding the scene in the hill country of Judea where Elizabeth had given birth. Back then, no one knew the sex of their baby until it was born.  If names were discussed, they were not given until the 8th day when a boy was given the covenant mark of circumcision.  Zechariah and Elizabeth were the exception.  They not only knew that they would have a boy, they also knew his name because it was given by the angel.  Rather than honor Zechariah by naming the boy after him, Zechariah and Elizabeth honored the Lord by giving their son the name which had been assigned.  Zechariah asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” (Luke 1:63)
     The name “John” was intentionally given.  It comes from a Hebrew name which means “The Lord has been gracious.”  The Lord was certainly gracious in giving a son to Zechariah and Elizabeth in their old age.  They had waited years and years for the Lord to bless their marriage with a child.  Eventually, waiting turned into the resignation that God, in his wisdom, would withhold this blessing from them.  They did not know why, and God did not give them an answer.  Although they had yearned for a child, the harsh reality is that God did not owe them a child.  Still, the Lord was gracious to them, and the name they gave to their son was a testimony to that.  The Lord sent his long-awaited grace.
     Even when God is gracious, he is still criticized for it.  I can imagine people rebuking God for giving Zechariah and Elizabeth their son.  “Sure, withhold this blessing until they are old and tired.  Nice timing, God!”  We still criticize God, faulting God for aches and pains, sickness and disaster, poverty, violence, and war.  We forget that the world God created was perfect.  When you read through the Bible, you will notice that you do not have to wait long to see everything ruined by sin.  That was man's fault, not God's.  We have also added our own sins to it.  We are impatient with other people, caring nothing about their struggles, only wanting them to help us with ours or get out of the way.  We are impatient with God because he does not fix everything as quickly or as completely as we want.  When our children snarl at us because we are not moving fast enough to give them what they want, we rebuke them.  We may even stop what we were doing and withhold the blessing we had intended for them.  And yet, we feel vindicated to criticize God.  We do not deserve his blessings, but his rebuke and his wrath.  Repent.
     Despite all the sins of mankind in this wicked world, God still loves the people he has created.  The Lord did not make Adam and Eve wait to see what he would do to them.  The Lord was gracious.  He promised a Savior as soon as he was needed.  Nevertheless, the world would have to wait for God's Savior until the time was right.  For centuries upon centuries, the world was waiting, holding on to the promise that God had made.  And God proved himself faithful to that promise with the birth of a boy named John.  The Lord sent his long-awaited grace.
     While today's parents may know the sex and the name of their baby, they certainly do not know what career their child will some day have.  The angel Gabriel not only told Zechariah the sex and the name of his son, he even announced what he would do: “He will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” (Luke 1:16-17)
     The Lord sent his long-awaited grace.  John came to be the prophet who would prepare the way for the Messiah.  To do that, John came preaching a stern message of repentance.  John did not invent ways to scare people.  Nor did John embellish man's sinfulness or God's wrath.  John proclaimed the word of the Lord which declares who God is.  God is good, and the commandments he gives us show us what it means to be good.  But those commandments show us that we are not good.  We are not patient.  We are not generous.  We are not eager to help when it will cost us something.  We exalt ourselves, our interests, and our problems at the expense of others because we are corrupt.  And since that which is corrupt cannot dwell with him who is holy, we are marked for death and damnation.  This is what John preached.  They were not empty threats.  John did not embellish or manipulate.  John only proclaimed the truth: We are sinners who are going to die.  We cannot fix that.  All we can do is cry for mercy.
     God sent John to prepare the way for the Savior.  He turns our hearts from ourselves and causes us to cry out to God.  God sends his long-awaited grace to us by showing us our need for his grace.  God shows us our need for a Savior by showing us that we need to be saved.  And then, God shows us our Savior, who is Jesus.
     The Lord sends his long-awaited grace.  This time, the people did not have to wait long for him.  John was born just six months before Jesus was born.  God had made his promise, and God was faithful to it.  John means, “The Lord has been gracious,” and he came to show that the Lord has been gracious.  Then Jesus came, whose name means, “The Lord who saves.”  It is who Jesus is, and it is what Jesus does.  The Lord saves us from our sins by taking them away from us.  He proves himself to be good by serving us in our greatest need.  Jesus does not serve because he hopes to get something out of us.  Rather, Jesus serves because of what he hopes to give us.  He gives us credit for the perfect life he has lived, and he takes from us all the guilt and wickedness that was ours.  He gives us full pardon for all our sins.  He gives us victory over the grave and the resurrection to life.  He suffers and dies under God's wrath, marked with death and damnation.  And you, who have been cleansed by him in the waters of baptism, are credited with his holy obedience, marked for eternal glory, peace, and joy.  Although the Lord's grace was long awaited, it was not given in short measures.  The Lord's grace is abundant—covering over every sin and opening heaven to every sinner.
     When John the Baptist was first born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, they were filled with great joy.  Zechariah had questioned God's word, and he was made mute until that word was fulfilled.  When Zechariah finally had the chance to speak again, he praised God.  His praise, however, was not that he finally had a little boy to hold.  He rejoiced that God had held true to his promise.  The Savior was coming, and John would prepare the way.  While we lack patience in serving the Lord and each other, God has not lost patience with us.  God remembers us, and he acts to save us. 
     The Lord sends his long-awaited grace.  The promise that was made back in the Garden of Eden began its fulfillment with the birth of John the Baptist.  He was sent to prepare people for their Savior.  He showed our need for God's grace so that we would rejoice to know that God loves and saves sinners.  And while we wait for the heavenly glory God has promised, we remain confident that just as God was faithful to his word in the past, so he will be faithful to us now.  Those who wait on the Lord will not be disappointed.  They trust his word.  They receive his grace.  And they are saved.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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