2nd Sunday of Advent (Texts for Adv 3B) December 4th, A+ D 2011
John 1:6-8, 19-28
He confessed. John the Baptizer confessed, because that is what prophets do. To confess is to tell the truth, to say again what God has already said. Sometimes we confess our sin, telling the truth, the truth revealed by God’s law, the truth about who we are and what we have thought, said and done. Sometimes we confess the faith, telling the truth that God has taught us, as when we confess the Creed. This type of confession is prophetic work, to tell the truth about what God has said and done. All Christians, and Prophets especially, are called to confess, to bear witness, not to what they think or feel or want, but to give the testimony that God has given them, to confess, or say back, to God, who is always listening, and also to the people, to speak that Word which the Lord has first spoken to them.
We tend to think of prophecy as predicting the future, because that is what we want to hear about. Predicting the future is more exciting than reciting history. We’re easily bored with history, but nervous about the unknown future, so we want predictive prophecy. But Biblical prophecy is simply to tell the truth, past, present or future, as God reveals it. Biblical prophecy touches the future only if God so chooses.
John the Baptizer sticks to prophesying the past and the present in our Gospel today. No, he confessed, I am not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet. John was clarifying old truths, straightening out his inquisitors’ understanding of Scripture, of past tense prophecies. John also prophesies the present: Yes, I am the one predicted by Isaiah, the one sent before the Christ, to cry out in the wilderness prepare His way. And then John gives his big present tense prophecy: I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. Right now, John prophesies, right now the Messiah, the Christ, the promised Savior, is walking in your midst.
From the other Gospels we know that John also added a bit of future prophecy, that this Christ would baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit, gathering His harvest, but burning up the worthless chaff with unquenchable fire. And so we see the problem that being a true prophet brings: the world doesn’t want to hear this part of Gods’ truth. John the Baptizer calls the most religious people of his day ‘a brood of vipers,’ which was true. Indeed every sinner is, by his sin, the offspring, part of the brood, of that terrible viper, the serpent in the Garden, Satan himself. John spoke this truth to self-righteous sinners, for the sake of bringing them to repentance, that they might be saved. Fat lot of good it did John. He was reviled by most, and eventually his truth telling got him killed.
Which is a pretty good sign that he was a true prophet. For since the beginning, true confessing prophets have often ended up dead, from Abel to Zechariah in the Old Testament, beginning with John the Baptist and continuing through Stephen, and on to the Apostle James in the New. It still happens today, in many dark corners of our world. True prophets are hated, and often killed.
And yet, being killed is not the primary test of the truthfulness of a prophet. No, the test of a prophet, according to the Lord, is whether his prophecies are true. Now, if one is making present tense or past tense prophecies, then the truth of them is easily verifiable, by checking the Scripture or checking the facts on the ground. But with future prophecies, time is the truth teller. Such prophecies require patience, and faith. Which is why everyone was so eager to find out who this John the Baptizer was: they were very eager to know if he himself might claim to be the long prophesied Christ, the fulfillment of Israel’s greatest desire. Which brings us to the point of all prophecy: When will the promises of God be fulfilled? When will He send the Savior? When will this broken world and all these sinful people be judged, and things put right?
Desiring prophecy requires that you believe something is wrong or lacking in the world as you now experience it, and so you would like to believe promises of something better to come. If you don’t think anything is wrong, why would you hope for some brighter future? And indeed, the world is full of wrongs. The great beauty and potential we see in the world, in people, even in ourselves, these signs of hope makes the scars of evil and sin and decay all that more offensive. Often we are taught to take the bad with the good, to just accept things as they are. But something, maybe the remnant of God’s image in us, or the pain that we suffer, or maybe the promise of paradise in Scripture, something, if we are blessed, something makes us refuse to settle. By God’s grace we still desire everything to be just right, and so we listen eagerly for prophecies of a brighter future, of a pure light, who will enlighten this dark world, and us. We long for a true prophet, to see his prophecies fulfilled.
The Father’s gift at Christmas is the True Prophet. Jesus is the Light to which John the Baptizer pointed his hearers. Jesus fulfills all the requirements of a true Biblical prophet, to the Nth degree. In fact, all the other prophets called by God exist to point to Jesus, to foreshadow, or point back to some portion of His prophetic work. Jesus is the Word of God, made flesh, the goal and fulfillment of all prophecy, past, present and future. Jesus knows the true history of God’s actions for mankind. Jesus knows the current state of affairs, even the truths we try to hide in our hearts. And Jesus is called by God the Father to prophesy a bright future, a future free from sin, free from sorrow, full of light and joy and glory, for all who trust His Prophetic Word.
Finally, Jesus carries the prophets’ mantle to His death, dying for the truths He confessed. But Abel’s blood cried out from the ground, and Zechariah’s blood from the altar of the Temple, crying out for injustice to be corrected. Jesus’ blood also cries out, but not that someone act to correct the injustice. No, the blood of Jesus confesses what God has declared, that injustice has been corrected. In Jesus’ blood God has fulfilled the prophecy that though they are like scarlet, our sins will be white as snow. By the confession of Christ, justification is ours, right now. And even though our remaining sins continue to offend, Jesus’ blood predicts the day when all our sins will be cleansed from us forever. Sin will be no more, and we will be covered with white robes of glory forever, robes washed in His precious lifeblood.
Ah, but maybe there is a skeptic here this morning asking, “But where is Jesus now? Where is the final proof of His great prophecies? Why believe this pie in the sky promise when none of us have seen Christ?”
And the skeptic has a point. We are forced to walk by faith. Salvation is declared, once and for all, in the Resurrection, but the full revealing of the truth of Christ is still a future event. The final prophecies are still pending. But there is evidence, evidence of something going on, from the way the whole world numbers their years from Jesus’ birthday, to the simple fact that despite her weakness, despite her many enemies, the Church continues on. Even though the true Church never uses human power to advance herself, but only the Word of God, still, in the face of great resistance, the Church goes on. Despite its age and the myriad attacks it has suffered, Gods’ Word recorded in the Bible is still the most popular and influential book on Earth. How have these things happened, unless the Almighty is really backing up His Word and His Church?
These are powerful evidence, something unique is definitely going on. Powerful evidence, but not enough. We will not argue the skeptic into faith. But maybe, just maybe, by God’s grace, these arguments, perhaps augmented by the kindness and mercy of God’s people, maybe these will be enough to draw someone in to hear Christ’s Word of prophecy. And this is when the Spirit makes faith happen, when the ears and heart of the unbelieving sinner are struck by the Word of the True Prophet, and all the doubt and resistance are swept away in a wave of confession and faith and hope. This is the Father’s gift at Christmas, your True Prophet, the Word made flesh, the hope of every sinner, come into our midst, to proclaim His mercy. God grant each of us to hear and trust His promises, for they are the Truth which gives forgiveness, and everlasting life. Amen.