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Who You Are, What You Do

December 18, 2022; Rev. Kurt A. Lantz, Pastor
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Who Are You, What Are You Doing?

 

Rev. Kurt Lantz Advent 4 John 1:19-28

December 18, 2022 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON

 

 

Dear people who are baptized,

 

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

Rulers rule; firefighters fight fires; teachers teach; students study; parents parent. Who you are determines what you do. You fulfill the vocations/callings that God has given to you and it is holy work, the hands of God are masked behind your face to care for others. There was an official inquiry sent to the strange man by the river. They had really only two questions for him: “Who are you?” and “What do you think you’re doing?”

 

In all fairness when they asked that first question, “Who are you?,” John replied by saying who he wasn’t. “I am not the Christ” (John 1:20). But confessing who you are not is also an important part of defining who you are. John made it very clear right from the outset that he was not, nor did he think he was or claim to be, the Christ, the promised Messiah sent from God to deliver His people. Even though all the people in the surrounding areas were coming to him he did not harbour any such delusions about himself. He was very clear to them and to the official delegation, and most importantly to himself that he was not the Christ.

 

What do you need to confess to yourself and others about who you are not. Is it that you are not the ruler of the world; or that you are not the parent; you are not an automobile mechanic; you are not an epidemiologist; you are not the Christ? You are not the one who will save God’s people, the Church. You are not the one who will save your family and friends. You are not the one who will save yourself.

 

If you get this wrong, it is just as blasphemous as if John would have said that he is the Christ. Then the Council back in Jerusalem would have had just cause and even the responsibility to put an end to John’s words and actions. It was important for John himself, and for the people who came to hear him by the river, and for the delegation who came to question him that they know right away that he was not the Christ.

 

So they restated the question: “Are you Elijah,” the great prophet whom God took up to heaven in whirlwind with a fiery chariot and who the other prophets said would come before the great Day of the LORD (Malachi 4:5)? John said, “I am not.” He wasn’t claiming that for himself. “Are you the Prophet,” the one whom the LORD had said He would send like Moses to speak for Him and lead His people (Deuteronomy 18:15)? John said “No!”

 

“Who are you?... What do you say about yourself?” You might think that John would have continued to give the same kind of denials, avoiding any kind of reference to a promised figure from the writings of the prophets. You might think that he would have kept quiet about who he was, seeing it was clear they were looking to find an excuse to oppose him. But as important as it is for us not to claim to be someone we are not, it is just as important for us to confess who we truly are, and not hide from the truth.

 

What aspects of your identity do you hide away, hoping that no one will know? What do you deny about yourself? Do you deny that you are a sinner? That would be just as blasphemous as claiming to be the Christ, the holy One of God. Or, do you deny that you are a baptized child of God? Do you deny whom God has made you to be through the death and resurrection of the one true Christ? Do you deny any of the unique callings that you bear in the various stations of life: that you are a parent, a child, a citizen, a servant?

 

John did not deny, not for fear of what the inquisitors might have done to him, nor out of fear of claiming too much for himself. He did not deny but confessed who God called him to be. He confessed, “I am the voice” (John 1:23). Not just a voice or any voice, but “the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness”. He confessed that he was the one whom God had called to fulfill the prophesy that Isaiah had written. He is the voice crying in the wilderness to “make straight the way of the LORD,” to prepare for the coming of the LORD in His Christ.

 

Now remember, who you are determines what you do. Rulers rule; firefighters fight fires; teachers teach; students study; parents parent. The voice... voices. He cries out in the desert as the voice of God to make straight the way of the LORD. Well, then why was he baptizing? That is the second question that the auditors wanted him to answer.

 

Think of the times that the LORD came to His people in the wilderness. How was the way prepared when He came to His people leading them out of Egypt through the wilderness to the promised land? The way was prepared when the waters of Red Sea were parted (Exodus 14). The children of Israel were saved and their enemies were drowned. The way was prepared when the bitter waters were made sweet for them to drink (Exodus 15:25), and where there was no water it flowed out of the rock (Exodus 17:6) which was Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).

 

How was the way prepared hundreds of years later when He came to bring His people back from exile in Babylon to rebuild the holy city Jerusalem and the temple? The Prophets proclaimed that their way back to Jerusalem would be an even more wondrous journey than their deliverance from Egypt had been. A highway would be prepared for them (Isaiah 40:3). Every mountain and hill made low and every valley levelled out. There would streams and pools for them in the desert (e.g. Isaiah 58:11).

 

These things pointed to an even greater deliverance that has come to us, to prepare us for the coming of the LORD, to deliver us from our enemies, to sustain us on our journey, to take us to the promised holy eternal city of God, the new Jerusalem. Because John is the voice making straight the way of the LORD, he makes use of the water God sends in the wilderness. He baptizes. He brings water to the desiccated lives of God’s people so that they will see their Deliverer, they will know that they have been redeemed, they will welcome the coming of the Christ to save them.
 

John did not do things that were inconsistent with who he was. But he did indeed baptize because that is what his identity as the voice in the wilderness defined for him to do. He was not afraid to confess who he was and what he was doing. He was the voice for God to call all people to repentance and to receive the life-giving forgiveness that comes through baptism into the Christ.

 

In Luke’s Gospel we are told that the people asked John about themselves, “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10). He told them that the rich are to share their clothing and food with those who have none. The tax collectors are not to collect any more than they are authorized to collect. Soldiers are to be content with their wages and not use their position to threaten or extort money from anyone. They are not to be who they are not, but who God has called them to be. Soldiers are not to be priests and tax collectors are not to be prophets. They are to be the hands of God in the callings He has given them, and they can do that through the baptism of repentance that John was called to give, confessing their sins and living their new life in the coming Christ.

 

That is John the Baptist’s advent message to you. He was and did what the Lord made him to be and called him to do. You are to be who the Lord made you to be and do what He has called you to do; and not try to be someone you are not and do what has not been given you to do. That means being honest about the physical and intellectual abilities that He has given to you, as well as the station in life where He has placed you. It means not being lazy or over-reaching, but striving to be and do the best that God has given you to be and to do. Remember: rulers rule; firefighters fight fires; teachers teach; students study; parents parent.

 

We all mess these things up in our lives. We try to be and do what God has not called us to do, or we deny who we are and don’t do all the things that we are supposed to do. But the voice of God still cries out in the wilderness of your sin-desiccated life. The Baptist’s voice still makes straight the way of the LORD by calling you to your baptism of repentance. He calls you to confess your sins and to live your new life in Christ, forgiven and righteous.

 

You can do that because Jesus has come and He has accomplished what was consistent with who He is. He is the Christ. He is the promised Messiah to save God’s people. He is the Rock from whom the water flowed forth in the desert and from whose side the water of our baptism flowed when He died upon the cross for all of our sins. He is the eternal Son of God, the incarnate Christ born of Mary, baptized by John, crucified and resurrected for your salvation. Through your baptism, the way was made straight for Him to come to you and lead you to your eternal home.

 

He came first in humility, riding on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden and dying upon the cross with criminals in order to be the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53:1-12). He came among us and even though John was not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal, He fulfilled what He was called to do, why He was sent to come. And He will come again with power and great glory and execute the judgment that He is called to do at that time. All so that you can be who you are and do what you are to do. You are the baptized people of God called to live in holiness and righteousness all the days of your life.

 

Those who were sent by the Pharisees to John the Baptist were so concerned with who John was and what he was doing that they did not notice the Christ. May it not be so with us. John boldly voiced for them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even He who comes after me” (John 1:26-27). May we know Him, and His presence among us (who He is and what He is doing even now), coming to save us from our sins and to lead us in all righteousness.

 

The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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