Rorate, Advent 4: The Voice in the Wilderness

Lessons: Deuteronomy 18:15-19, Philippians 4:47-7, John 1:19-28
Hymns: 353, 357, 355, 350, 333

      Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

      The prophet Isaiah spoke of the ministry of St. John the Baptist as the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (Isaiah 40:3, John 1:23). John the Baptist was sent as the forerunner to the Messiah—the one to proclaim repentance and the one to baptize sinners—the one to speak the truth with clarity, earnestness, and all comfort. He was sent to speak.

      The human voice involves most of our senses. We not only hear the sounds uttered by those around us, but we can see their lips move and even their bodies. We can feel the vibration caused by sound. The human voice is powerful in that a few sounds can cause laughter or anger, comfort or fear.

      God not only granted us the ability to engage in complex communication through our voice, but the Almighty God has chosen to reveal Himself through words that we can hear and understand. For it is written, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). In 1 Corinthians 14, St. Paul tells us the importance of speaking God’s Word in understood languages, for it is of no benefit for you to hear a preacher speaking in another language. He even says he would rather speak 5 words with understanding than 10,000 in a foreign tongue (1 Cor. 14:19).

      The Word of God is so important that it is linked to Jesus Himself. As we will hear on Christmas Day, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). And so, the Scriptures declare, “Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).

      Even though John preached nearly 2000 years ago in the wilderness, his voice is still heard today. For some of his words are recorded in the Bible and, therefore, we may read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them. And the content of his preaching is still preached today. So what voice was heard in the heard in the wilderness as John engaged in his prophetic office of preaching?

      A crying voice: He spoke with urgency and conviction, for eternal matters were at stake. The Lord was not waiting for another millennia. The Lord was already here. For Jesus was born a mere six months after John. That’s why John said, “But among you stands one you do not know… whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose” (John 1:26-27). And this Jesus is about to begin His ministry. He will soon be baptized by John and begin preaching. John will then decrease so that Jesus may increase (John 3:28-30). And so, the voice cries, “Repent! Prepare! Make the way of the Lord! Turn yourselves from this wicked generation. Be baptized. Receive salvation for your souls!”

      The same urgency is there today. We do not know how long we will live. We do not know when Jesus will return. But we do know from Jesus that we must always be ready. He will come at a time many do not expect. Jesus may even return before the pandemic is over. How many will be unprepared for they let their hearing of the Word lapse during these so-called “unprecedented times?” What “abundance of caution” do people truly exercise when they neglect the gathering of believers and the reception of the Sacrament? From a worldly standpoint, avoiding the Church seems reasonably cautious, loving, and the right way to go. But from a Christian standpoint, those who avoid the means of grace place themselves under Satan’s dangerous crosshairs, for God works faith only by means of the Word.

      And so, we need that crying voice today, urging us to be prepared through repentance and faith in Christ, hearing the Word of God. And thankfully God sends ministers today to give us that crying voice.

      The voice speaks in the wilderness. As much as we try to tame the world by turning forests into fields, deserts into dwelling places, and hostile routes into highways, the world is still very much a wild place. Stand outside in the cold too long and you’ll freeze, fall off a cliff and you’ll be injured at best, walk into the wilderness and you may become a large animal’s prey. The frailty of our bodies is wholly evident. Chickens give no thought to the bugs as they eat them. Owls happily gobble down rodents. Wolves will hunt down and eat larger animals. It’s a wild place out there, corrupt with sin. Death is all around, and all flesh eventually loses the battle to live.

      But God does not leave us alone in this wilderness. He doesn’t even turn His back in shame over how savage this world has become from the effects of Fall. Instead, He promised to send His only-begotten Son into this world to redeem it through the shedding of His own Blood on the cross. He sent preachers like John to proclaim Christ. He sends preachers today to draw us together as the community of believers who hear God’s Word receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. God tames this wilderness, provides clarity through His Word, and ultimately draws us from this fallen place to be with Himself in Heaven.

      The voice of John points us to Christ, as does all godly preaching. The delegation sent to investigate John asked him who he is. He immediately said he’s not the Christ. Evidently some were thinking John could be the promised Messiah. Instead, John said he’s the one prophesied to “make straight the way of the Lord.” He also explains that Christ has already come, yet they did not know it.

      The voice of John is the voice that speaks of Christ. Jesus alone shed His innocent Blood as the sacrificial payment for our sin. Jesus alone perfectly fulfilled the Law in our place. Jesus alone earned our salvation. Jesus alone is seated at the right hand of the Father where He sits and reigns. It is only by faith in Jesus alone that can we stand before God on Judgment Day and be acquitted of all our sin.

      John did not make his preaching about himself, but about Christ. You see, we are all tempted to make everything all about ourselves. We want our jobs to be about us. We want our families to focused on us. We want the Church to be focused on us to our praise and glory. And preachers, too, are tempted to focus on themselves. And so they crack jokes, interject commentary into the liturgy, or turn the proclamation of the Gospel into a TED talk, floral finery, or weasel words. They begin to think that if people are coming to church, it must be because of his good preaching, or if they’re not coming, it must be because he’s not doing such a great job. In some respects, this may be true. Hearers often inflate the hubris of the pastor, making church about the pastor, rather than the One whom the pastor is supposed to be preaching. Christ Jesus then gets lost in the muddy waters of a misdirected message. And the focus then is not the voice in the wilderness but on feeble sinners who did not redeem the world and saved no one.

      And so the voice is to proclaim Christ and Him crucified at all times, and do so with clarity. You would think that a man calling in the wilderness who eats locusts and honey and wears clothing made of camel’s hair would not be very plain in his speech. But he was. He minced no words, even as he called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. He didn’t turn the clear Word of God into gray shadows and images. He didn’t even backpedal when he was thrown into prison when preaching God’s laws concerning marriage and divorce against King Herod. This same clarity is to be preached today. We don’t need reeds shaking in the wind. Since God’s Word condemns cohabitation and says those who do so will die eternally, so do we. Since God’s Word speaks against looking at others with lust, so do we. Since God’s Word announces that coarse joking and gossip are sin, so do we. We don’t change our tune because we found someone guilty of these trespasses; instead, we, as John clearly did, call them to repentance. For those who repent of their sin and turn from it, they are absolved of their sin and they are reconciled to Christ.

      John’s voice was one of conviction as the entire Law of God was clearly applied and the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ was clearly proclaimed. For if we backpedal on the Law when it actually applies to someone, then we are also excluding them from receiving the Gospel. In other words, if we give people the impression that their transgression is not a violation of God’s Law, then we give them the false hope that they need no Savior from their transgression. By retracting the Law, we deny sinners the Gospel’s salve of forgiveness.

      And so, John’s voice of conviction is needed, as is his voice of truth. For God’s Word never changes. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Heaven and Earth will pass away but God’s Word will never pass away (Mark 13:31). His truth must always be proclaimed to the ends of the Earth.

      And when the voice is that of truth, it is also that of love, for “love rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6). John conducted his ministry in love as he called sinners to repentance, baptized sinners into Christ, directed the hearts and minds of sinners to Jesus, forgave sinners with Christ’s forgiveness. All of this was done in love for the comfort of sinners. You see, we gather here each week to be comforted by Christ and His forgiveness. Our sin alarms us. Then Christ, who shed His Blood for us on the cross and rose from the grave comes to us through His Word and the Lord’s Supper to comfort us with His forgiveness and promise us eternal salvation. That blessed voice is the one we need to hear. We thank God, for He has blessed us with that voice. Amen.        

     The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen