Sermon / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Third Sunday in Advent / Sunday December 17th 2017 - / John 1:6-8, 19-28 / "Who are you?"
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday December 17th 2017: 3rd Sunday in Advent / John 1:6-8, 19-28 “Who Are You?”
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. …
And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
(Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) They asked him, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands One you do not know, even He who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” These things took place in Bethany across the Jordan, where John was baptizing.
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The Jews sent priests and Levites out into the wilderness to ask John this simple question, “Who are you?”
Seeing the crowds that came to John they wanted to know if John was the Christ; Or if maybe he was Elijah come again: They wanted to know who he was.
As we wait for Christmas, as we prepare the way for the celebration Jesus’ coming this Advent season the world asks us this same question, “Who are you?”
If someone asked you this question, “Who are you?” you’d likely tell them your name first. If you where out on the street and some one stopped you and asked, “Who are you?” the first thing that comes to mind wouldn’t necessarily be, “I’m a Christian!” You might tell them it’s none of their business, or to buzz off. But if you did answer them, like I said, you would start with your name, then you might think, “I’m a mother or a father, a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter,” then you might get to your job, “I’m an accountant, or business owner, or farmer, or cop, or I’m retired, or I’m in school.”
If they asked, “what do you believe?” Then you would likely think to say I’m a Christian, I’m a Lutheran.
John has a unique way of answering this question, when he is asked “Who are you?” He starts by telling them who he isn’t: John says, “I’m not the Christ!” John knew he was not the Christ. Imagine how strange it would sound if someone said to you “Who are you?” and you responded by say, “Well, I’m not Jesus!” they would probably think you were trying to be smart with them.
John doesn’t stop there, when pressed further he tells them that he is, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”
It’s easy to put many things before Jesus in our lives, (Our individualism, our family and friends, our work) and sometimes, Jesus is moved a long way down the line.
If life were a ladder; it would be tempting to move Jesus down the rungs, as things grew more and more complicated, until we have Jesus standing at the bottom holding the ladder with His feet on the ground. Now this might seem like a good place; we put Jesus there because He becomes our symbolic strength holding the ladder of life. But should Jesus be left at the bottom of the ladder as we clime higher and higher? If this was the case, a new problem would arise; once we find ourselves at the top of the ladder, we would look back over our shoulder to find Jesus small and far away, way, way down at the bottom of the ladder.
As children we see Jesus up at the top of the ladder, past our parents, past everyone, He’s the tops when you’re small, yet as you grow where does Jesus end up. John the Baptizer knows where he is in relationship to Jesus: When asked John tells the priests and the Levites that, “among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
One of Jesus’ disciples felt the same way about Jesus as John did. On the night in which He was betrayed Jesus did something for His disciples, something unexpected. He did something John the Baptizer might not have expect either if John the Baptizer had still been alive that night. That night, the night in which Jesus was betrayed it was Saint Peter who said something like John the Baptizer, listen now to this account of Jesus and sandal straps:
“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean…”
It doesn’t say who untied the disciples sandal straps, but untying the sandal straps is the first thing you need to do if you are going to wash someone’s feet. Washing feet is even lower than untying sandals. When we think of the coming of the baby Jesus and the celebration of Christmas we often have to stop and remind ourselves of where the rest of the account of Jesus’ life takes us. When caught up in the Christmas preparations and celebrations we often become like parents looking at their kids: who even on the wedding day of the child, will find themselves looking at the mature adult in front of them with some perplexity, yes they often find that they see not a mature grown man or woman but see instead the little child they looked after. It is a comfort to look upon the Christ Child to contemplate Him there on Mary’s lap. And there are times when it is good to remember and meditate on Him in that way, especially when we are in terror or when we are afraid. And yet we must also remember that Jesus didn’t stay a baby in the manger, after Christmas is over Jesus doesn’t get packed up with the nativity set and the ornaments only to make a brief appearance with some bunny rabbits on Easter morning – Jesus is more than that. Jesus does unexpected things.
Let’s go back to the ladder that we were talking about earlier. The ladder of life that we looked at: the one where we are tempted to give Jesus the job of holding and keeping the ladder steady as we do the important stuff (Taking care of our self, our family, our friends, our work). As Christians something very different is happening on that ladder. The ladder, no matter what the world tells you, is not the sort of thing you can climb successfully on your own. If you plan to climb it on your own there will always be one more rung, there will always be some rung in sight just out of reach. You will try your hardest and you may feel like you have made it quite far up the ladder but you will never reach the top. You are limited by your sin, by greed and, selfishness, by things that should get you further up the ladder like ambition and pride, stubbornness and determination.
As Christians we have a different way of making it up the ladder. Not by our own power, not by our own strength: by the power of the Holy Spirit we are given faith in our baptism and with the faith we received in our baptism we cling to Jesus; Jesus gives us His Body and Blood in Holy Communion in, with and under the bread and the wine and by this gift we receive strength to life everlasting and by that strength we hold fast to Jesus even in the most difficult of times. Our ride up the ladder, however, is not like a piggyback ride, no it’s more like the baby that clings to their mom or dad, that is how we cling to Jesus as He climbs the ladder in our place. The baby clings to their parent but in truth the baby with their strength needs their mom or dad to hold fast to them or they’d fall. So it is with us. And so it is that where we falter should we attempt to climb on our own we can rest assured that Jesus does not falter as He climbed. When in sin we let go of Jesus He catches us up to Himself and then when we make it to the top of the ladder and look around Jesus isn’t way, way, way down, far away at the bottom of the ladder – No when we get to the top of the ladder we are with Jesus and not because of our hard work climbing. This is the good news of the Cross of Christ – Jesus took on our sin and became sin, dying in our place taking the punishment of the cross, the punishment of death that we deserved that we would have life.
Think then about the cross: Jesus isn’t at the foot of the cross holding it up for us as we die for ourselves, our family, our friends, our work; Jesus isn’t way, way, way down, far away at the bottom of the cross as we die for our sins (Sins that warrant our death by the Holy Law of God). That’s not where Jesus is: Jesus is on that cross for you. And in your baptism you are baptized into Christ Jesus’ life and death and resurrection so up there on that cross hidden away in Jesus there you are.
When asked, as John the Baptizer was asked, “Who are you?” we, with him can say, “I’m not the Christ!” and while John says of Jesus that he is unworthy to untie the strap of Jesus’ sandal, this is most certainly true, yet Jesus makes Himself into a servant for our sake knowing we can not save ourselves and makes Himself the least so that we might be saved.
“Who are you?” - “I’m not the Christ!” – “… But I’m a Christian let me tell you who Jesus is, did you know Jesus washed peoples feet? …” Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord, have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.”
 John 13:3-10
Here's a bonus Sermon for you abridged and adapted from a Christmas Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther from The Martin Luther Christmas Book, translated & arranged by Roland H. Bainton, Fortress Press 1948, pg 36-40. This abridged adaptation was preached by Pr. Ted Giese at the Sunday School programme at the 9am Service on December 17th.