This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem: No. Here ends the testimony. Well, it’s not quite the end of his testimony, but it describes who John is and why he says and does what he says and does.
A negative says so much, especially when people come loaded with all the wrong questions. Who are you? John is not who you think he is. In fact, the one for whom he prepares the way is one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. The word know here is not head knowledge knowing, but a personal knowing. John is saying to those sent from the Pharisees that they don’t have a clue who stands among them. Jesus, to them, is the X-factor. He is an unknown entity to them because they have strayed so far from the voices that have called to those who have ears to hear their cry.
John says about himself that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” The definite article the is not the best choice here. Perhaps it’s better to hear John use the indefinite article. He is a voice one crying in the wilderness. John confesses, does not deny, but confesses that he is, so to speak, another brick in the wall. He stands in a long line of confessors who are not the Christ, not the Prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy chapter 18, or even Elijah who is to come from Malachi chapter four. John is a voice.
The voice of the many voices says Make straight the way of the Lord. Clear out of the way everything that gets in the way of welcoming Messiah among His people. That’s the message of Advent in a nutshell: Make straight the way of the Lord. Now is not the time for asking questions, judging motives, or making everything just so for the hap-hap-happiest Christmas of all. Now is the time to let everything go that gets in the way of Jesus coming to see you in order to save you from sin, death, and the devil.
Saint Paul says in the Epistle: do not be anxious about anything. If this month, this season, is about anything, it is about anxiety. Even if you think you have this whole Christmas thing down pat, you will have plenty of knuckle balls thrown your way from places you never saw it coming. Then there are those who dread these December days for reasons of their own. A family member won’t be around this year, perhaps that one special family member whose presence made the holidays worth celebrating. All the preparations for a few hours of greeting card-like feelings and good spirits get blown up by one little thing that gets in the way of the roles you expect everyone to play.
There’s no need to recast every scene. Throw the script away. Throw the movie in the trash. Push everything to the side that is outside of Christ and His joy for you. It’s not an easy chore, especially if you think you have to live up to some false expectation welling up inside of you. Satan paints what looks like a masterpiece in your head, only to look like a portrait of horror and fear.
It’s enough to make you look at the scene here at church and say, as the priests and Levites say to John, who are you? Who are you, Lord? Why does December bring so much heartache when it’s supposed to be a season of joyful expectation and fulfillment? What got in my way again this year?
Confess, do not deny, but confess that you have not heard a voice crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord. The way is made straight through the Holy Spirit repenting you in the good and wise Law of God. The Law says you cannot save yourself. You cannot shed your own blood in order to pay for your sin. Currier and Ives, Country Sampler, even Parade Magazine’s helpful hints for a stress-free Christmas won’t get you through these days.
The message of John the Baptist that points to Jesus Christ gets you through the heartache and hurt of sin and regrets. Make straight the way of the Lord. Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Ransom me, Lord, from the prison of death and hell that my sin has brought upon me.
Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel. Emmanuel, God with us, comes to you today with joyous news. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The peace of God, spoken of by countless voices through the centuries, has come in Jesus Christ. Jesus takes on our flesh, becomes one like us, yet without sin, in order to buy us back from the devil and from hell.
The Christ, the Elijah, the Prophet whom the Pharisees and all Israel are waiting for is now among them. None of them, none of you, are worthy to loosen the strap of His sandal. Yet He deigns to dwell with men in their own skin. He dwells among us to set us free. He dwells among us to die, and yet to live in order that you live with Him.
He dwells among us in His Word, the Word that declares you free from everlasting death. He dwells among us in His Word under bread and wine: This is My Body…this is My Blood…given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. He dwells among us in water and His Word, rescuing us through water from death to life. He dwells among us as our hands, feet, hearts, and lives embrace our neighbor’s every need.
You may not know Him as well as you think you know Him, but He knows you. He knows that you are in need of salvation. So Jesus comes, just as those voices crying said He would come. He comes to set you free from your own expectations, especially your own personal hell that you built for yourself. Jesus knocks that down, pulls you up on His shoulders, and carries you home, a lost lamb, washed, robed, fed, and declared righteous for His sake.
Rejoice! The Lord is at hand for you.