Friday, June 24, 2016

Nativity of John the Baptist


And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare His ways.  Luke 1:76

THE special circumstances of St. John's birth are in keeping with the singular person the Baptizer was, and the exclusive ministry God gave him to perform.

Critics might think the whole affair to be over blown, but they would be wrong because  according to our Lord, John is a unique man in all history.  He is the one who brought the Old Testament to a close and by his ministry introduced the New to the world.  He was the last of a long line of super-remarkable men who foretold the coming of the Savior, who kept the promise alive in the darkest night, who risked life and limb to assure the world that the Light of Life overcomes the Darkness of death and that when "every  earthly prop gives way, He then is all our hope and stay;" a message still sorely needed today, and still preached in the name of Jesus by His church today.  It is no wonder then that Jesus says that "...among those born of women, none is greater than John," but He then adds that, "the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than John."

The Lord, who was not born of woman, but of a virgin, was speaking of Himself.  He is the one who made Himself the Least and was thus made the Greatest of all.  None the less, John's true greatness did not arise from the circumstances of his Samuel-like birth, or from the diet of locusts that winged his thoughts to heaven, or the honey he ate that caused sweet sentences to flow from his golden mouth, but his pre-eminence came from the baptism of repentance he administered, which previewed Christian baptism, and from the witness he gave which in a word is this:  "Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world!"

It is a message so towering and a gospel of such surpassing greatness, that the church could not help but embed these words into her Liturgy where we too behold with our eyes and with our tongues, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the Baptizer's message, and let us learn it now.

First is the word "behold."  By it John summons all people to turn the eyes of their hearts to Jesus who is God's very own sacrificial Lamb and who alone takes away the sin and sorrow of the world.  We should note that in worldly terms the church has a very limited arsenal to defeat these mighty enemies; limited, but also potent, for it is nothing less than the Word of God which is the Sword of the Spirit, and not only a sword but a double-edged sword.  One edge wields the Law - the very real threat of retribution for those who will not behold this Lamb or put their trust for the forgiveness of sins and salvation in Him; those who would continue to live their lives following the dictates of their own heart, and not the Word of God.  That is one edge, but the other promises future glory such as eye has never seen, neither ear heard, nor has ever entered into the heart of man, for all who believe and are baptized, and who wish to walk in the way of peace.

Yet a warning to the church is needed.  She should not get overly enthusiastic as is so common today.  She should not attempt to bring people into the church with gimmicks or under false pretenses, or try to impose her faith on others.  Neither need we fear that the church will become extinct if we don't do something positive and constructive.  Remember John!  Remember where his base of operations was.  It was in the desert, many long, obscure and dangerous miles from Jerusalem, the religious capital, the place where one would think he would have the greatest impact.  Also remember his tools:  a word, "behold," and a river named Jordan.

Then what is the church to do today in the face of shrinking numbers, waning influence, and the immense rise of hatred in the world?  Nothing other than stay the course.  By her steady proclamation of God's Word, her example of patience in suffering and her unfeigned love for all men, even her enemies, the Spirit will continue to work through her: to call, gather, enlighten, and sanctify sinners, and give them everlasting salvation.

What does John invite the world to behold?  The Lamb of God, or said another way, God's Lamb, that is to say the sacrifice that God Himself put forth to remove, take away, delete and forevermore dissolve the disaster wrought by the snake:  the sin, sorrow, misery, cruelty, bloodshed, greed, faithlessness, and utter injustice that defines the world today.

Throughout the Old Testament many lambs were brought for sacrifice, but they were of limited capacity.  They were the lambs of men, put forth by men, as a sacrifice for the sins of the man who offered it in faith, but every animal ever sacrificed in the Old Testament was but a prophecy pointing to this Lamb, to God's one and only Son, whom God Himself presented as a propitiation to protect and defend the world from the contagion of sin and the curse of death and hell.  This, our Great Isaac gladly and willingly did in obedience to His Father in order to make men holy and to make men free.

St. Paul says it like this:  For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so also by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.  Jesus is the One Man and you are those many made righteous by Him.

In closing then, let us take up the words of Zechariah, John's father, onto our lips.  "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He has visited and redeemed His people, and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David ... to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."  God grant it.  Amen.

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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