Tuesday after the First Sunday after Christmas
Scripture: St. Luke 3:15-20 (NKJV)
15 Now as the people were in expectation, and all reasoned in their hearts about John, whether he was the Christ or not, 16 John answered, saying to all, “I indeed baptize you with water; but One mightier than I is coming, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather the wheat into His barn; but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other exhortations he preached to the people.
19 But Herod the tetrarch, being rebuked by him concerning Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done, 20 also added this, above all, that he shut John up in prison.
How easy it would have been for John to seize power! A message of repentance like his is still the basis for populist movements today. We may think that no one likes being called a sinner, but that’s not quite the case. A generic admission of sin is quite acceptable to most people, just as long as someone else’s sin is worse, especially someone who has power over them. “Look, I’m no saint,” people will say, “but that guy is evil!”
John wasn’t seeking a following at all. Like the star that guided the Magi to the infant Redeemer, John proclaimed the Greater One, the One whose coming work is what gave John’s preaching and Baptism its power. If you were rejecting John, it’s not John that you would need to fear, but the Lord, whose forerunner he was. Yet, while John denied that he was the Christ, the fact that people asked whether he might be is what fueled Herod’s locking him up. As we see with the slaughter of the innocents after the visit of the wisemen, the fear of a real authority rising ran deep in his family, just as it does in anyone with a tenuous hold on power; anyone operating out of sync with the true reign of the true God.
Faithful pastors continue to call Christians to continuous repentance and faith. Such, neither seek a following nor fear losing one, but always point to Christ’s righteous reign and coming judgment. Insisting that individuals and the whole parish conform to Christ’s Word (and the Church’s confession of it, the Book of Concord) is fulfilling John’s vocation of declaring Jesus Himself as the Ruler of the Church He purchased with His blood.
Guide us by Your Word, O Lord, that we bear fruit showing repentance, declaring Christ alone as our righteousness. Amen.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.