3rd Sunday of Advent
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all, dear friends in Christ, What questions do you ask? When you walk into your doctor’s office to discuss your health trouble you don’t ask him about what the weather will be like next week or where to invest your savings. When you take your car into the mechanic shop you don’t ask the mechanic what medications you should be taking or how to bake your favorite Christmas cookies. When you meet with you banker to discuss your mortgage you don’t ask them what you should plant in your garden next year or whether you need the spark plugs changed in your car or not. If you did any of those things not only would you get some stranger reactions, but you’d also be guilty of asking all the wrong questions. When the religious officials approached John the Baptist in our text for this morning they were guilty of just that: asking all the wrong questions.
John the Baptist was sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus to come. “He came as a witness to testify concerning that light.” He came as a witness. Witnesses testify by telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That’s exactly what John’s testimony was. He came to prepare people’s hearts from the coming Savior. To tell people the truth about their sins and how desperately they needed a Savior. He also came to tell the truth about that Savior, the Christ, who was coming after him. He did this for a purpose: “So that through him all might believe.” It is the amazing grace and love of our Lord that He sends His Word into our lives in order to work faith in our hearts to believe in Jesus our Savior. God has chosen to work faith exclusively through means or instruments and those are the Word and Sacraments. John was not the light; “he came only as a witness to the light.”
John’s ministry out in the wilderness must have been sending shockwaves throughout the area. Remember last week we heard that the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him. No doubt the religious leaders in Jerusalem got wind of what was going on and decided to investigate. So off they sent a committee of priests and Levites out to look further into this matter of why John the Baptist was doing all of these things. It is a bit clearer in the original Greek what exactly they asked, they asked, “YOU, who are you?” Lying beneath their question was the obvious, “Who do you think you are to be doing these things? Do you think you’re someone special? Do you think you are the Christ?” Notice that they did not ask what he was doing or why he was doing it or what his message was or about whom he was witnessing or testifying, rather they simply asked him about himself. Again John’s response is also a little bit clearer in the Greek, which literally says, “And he confessed and did not deny and confessed, ‘As for me, I am not the Christ.’” Notice that John does not take any glory for himself but stands up for what he believes in, even in the face of important people. Here John gives them some important and definite information about the Christ, “As for me, I am not the Christ.” So the natural next question is? “Who is he? Where is he? Where can we find him? Where was he born? What is he teaching?”
But instead of asking about the Messiah or the Christ their next question is… “Then who are you? Are you Elijah? He said, ‘I am not.’ ‘Are you the Prophet?’ He answered, ‘No.’” John’s answers did not satisfy them, they of all people, the religious leaders, ought to have known and recognized John for who he was: the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah, the Lord, but they didn’t. Instead they kept asking about John’s person, who he claimed to be. “Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’ John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” And notice their reaction. Nothing. No confession of sins, no repentance, no being baptized by John, nothing.
The religious leaders continued, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” Of anyone in the world they should have known the Messiah had come. They should have known from the OT prophecies what to be looking for and should have recognized John for who he was- the one who would prepare the way for the Messiah to come. But they were blinded by their own pride and conceitedness and asked the wrong questions. So John replied, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know.” The most important person this world has ever seen was among them, lived in their own region, and they didn’t even know Him. Instead they focused on John, not his message. They focused on John, not on whom he pointed. Their tunnel vision blinded them from the fact that God’s own presence was among them and all they did was ask all the wrong questions.
Finally in this Advent season we are preparing our hearts for Christ’s coming. The Pharisees asked all the wrong questions because they weren’t interested in John’s message, weren’t interested in the facts that the Christ had indeed come and was living in their midst. They missed the whole point and so asked John simply about himself, not about the one to whom he pointed. No doubt they left disappointed because John didn’t answer their wrong questions. They missed the message and therefore likely left without any joy.
But what a message they missed. The very fact that Christ came to this earth is at the heart of Christmas joy. God came to this earth so that we would no longer be separated from Him. God came in order to be present with us and in us. And that is the essence of heaven: being in the presence of God. God came to Bethlehem in order to open heaven’s gates for us and lead us through them into God’s presence forever in heaven.
Many people today seem to be interested in Christmas. They enjoy the parties and celebrations, the gift shopping and the gift giving, Christmas trees and twinkling lights. Perhaps they even enjoy a veneer of something “religious,” “those manger scenes are so cute.” Perhaps many questions float through their minds: What should I get them for Christmas? Where are all those Christmas decorations? When is our work Christmas party? The problem is, like those who inquired of John the Baptist, they too are asking all the wrong questions. They are asking all the wrong questions because they have no desire for God’s presence in their lives. They have no time to come into God’s presence in worship or church or Bible study or devotions and if they have no desire for God’s presence here on earth why should they enjoy God’s presence forever in heaven?
And if it is such a delight for us to be in God’s presence then we’ll certainly not be found asking the wrong questions, in the midst of this Christmas season what are the big questions are on our minds? “Am I going to be ahead financially this year? Will I be able to afford that thing I really want? Am I saving enough to retire? How am I going to get everything done before Christmas? And must I worship at every opportunity? Must I look forward to worshipping God?” This Christmas season let us not be so distracted and focused on the wrong things that John the Baptist’s words apply to us, “Among you stands one whom you do not know.”
When it comes down Christmas there is really only one question that really matters. It’s not what gift should I get so and so for Christmas. It’s not what should I make for the Christmas party. It’s not will there be snow for Christmas. The real question is: what do you want for Christmas? The answer doesn’t involve toys or gadgets or trinkets. It doesn’t involve spending time with family or friends. It isn’t to hear all my favorites Christmas songs or watch my favorite Christmas movies. It isn’t even about whether we can have all of our loved ones with us or not. Rather, what we want for Christmas is exactly the same thing that we want every year. We want what the Pharisees and religious leaders missed. We want the One to whom John the Baptist pointed. What do we want for Christmas? We want God’s presence in our lives. We want our Savior. We want Him to come because we know that on our own all we are is darkness and night. We want Him to come because we are completely helpless to save ourselves. We want him to come because He alone gives us light for our lives.
What do we want? We want God’s Gift to us. What an amazing gift God chose to give us! The One who was far more important, far too great for even John the Baptist to stoop down and untie His sandals…HE came. What love that would set aside His crown and live in a sinful world!
How much can you take away for it still to be Christmas? The white snow? The real Christmas tree? The ornaments? The twinkling Christmas lights? For some without those things it’s just not Christmas. But not for you. They may ask all the wrong questions…but you know the right question: What do you want for Christmas? How much more could you ever want for Christmas? You know what makes it Christmas. God has given you the best Christmas gift: Himself. Although we may often ask the wrong questions, God never questioned His decision to come. Wrapped up in those swaddling clothes and placed in a feeding trough is not just a cute baby, but your Savior. He came to dispel the darkness of unbelief with the light of the gospel. He came to give light to those sitting in darkness. He came to preach good news to the poor. He came proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners. He came to comfort all who mourn. He came to give joy and praise in the place of grief and despair. He came clothed in swaddling clothes in order to clothe you with His righteousness and salvation. He came to free you from your sins and win you life!
So we go about our Christmas preparations and our Christmas festivities with joy and gladness. Why? Because God’s presence is on this earth. He came to live with us and in us that we might live with Him forever in heaven. So what’s your answer? What’s your answer to that one question? What is it that you want for Christmas? Amen.