Saturday, December 19, 2015
Homily for Rorate Coeli - The Fourth Sunday In Advent (Advent 4)
John 1:19-28; Philippians 4:4-7; Deuteronomy 18:15-19
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
When the LORD gave His commandments to Moses on the mountain there was thunder and lighting, the sound of a trumpet, and the mountain was covered by thick smoke and darkness. Needless to say, the people were terrified. They plead with Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die!” Israel felt the fear of sinners faced by a perfect, holy God and His demands, so they asked Moses to be the one who met with God on their behalf and brought His Word to them. In this, the precedent for making prophecy the means for God’s communication with Israel was established. Israel would have a succession of prophets resembling Moses in function, declaring the Word of the Lord. Near the end of his life, with the tribes of Israel camped by the shores of the Jordan, Moses gave his last sermons to the people before his death. Before Joshua would lead the tribes of Israel across the Jordan into Canaan, Moses prophesied to them, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers – it is to Him you shall listen – just as you desired of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God or see this great fire anymore, lest I die’.”
The LORD agreed with their assessment saying, “They are right in what they have spoken. I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put My Words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And whoever will not listen to my Words that He shall speak in My Name, I Myself with require it of him.” All of the prophets of Israel that would speak for the LORD would, ultimately, find fulfillment in that one final prophet, raised up from amongst the people, who would intercede for the people before the LORD. That one was, and is, Jesus the Christ.
Thus, when John the Baptist came preaching and baptizing, the priests and the Levites, sent by the Pharisees, rightly inquired of him, “Who are you?” John immediately denied being the Christ, so they asked him “What then? Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?” to which John answered, “No.” Of course they were waiting and looking for the Christ, so John was certain to eliminate that possibility first. However, prophecy had also foretold that Elijah would return before the coming of the Messiah, so John denied being Elijah as well. But, John truly was the foretold Elijah of prophecy, the forerunner of the Christ sent to prepare His way before Him. And, neither was John the Prophet. The Prophet they were asking about was the one prophesied of by Moses to the tribes of Israel, the one like him, raised up from among His brothers. John denied being that Prophet, for the Prophet like Moses was Jesus, the Messiah, and the Christ.
But, still they pressed him saying, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John, then, answered them with prophecy, the prophecy of Isaiah, saying, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’.” Again, there was no doubt in John’s mind about who he was and who he was not, and there was no doubt in John’s mind about who Jesus was. Then they asked him for the source of his authority, as he was not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet saying, “Then why are you baptizing?”
That’s a good question, actually. Why was John baptizing? What did John’s baptism do, if anything? What is the difference between John’s baptism and Christian baptism today? Well, St. Paul explains in the Acts of the Apostles, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” Similarly, St. Mark the Evangelist tells us that “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” This is to say that John’s baptism was a real and true baptism, bestowing the forgiveness of sins just as John said. It’s authority and efficacy came the very same way as Christian baptism today, by the Word and promise of God attached to it. As we confess in the Catechism in answer to the question, “How can water do such great things?” – “Certainly not just water but the Word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water.” Thus, the repentant sinners whom John baptized truly received the forgiveness of their sins through faith in the Word of God and His promise of the Messiah He would soon send. The difference is that the forgiveness given in John’s baptism came through faith in Jesus yet to come, while Christian baptism gives forgiveness through faith in Jesus who has come. However, only in Christian baptism, following Jesus’ death, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, is the Holy Spirit given. That is why those baptized by John were later baptized in the Name of the Lord Jesus – in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
John was sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord by preaching repentance unto the forgiveness of sins, marked by the sign of baptism. John did this quite effectively, but the fulfillment of his work had not yet come. Therefore, John answered his inquirers saying, “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.” Just as the LORD had promised to Moses and the tribes of Israel, God would raise up a great Prophet like Moses from amongst His brothers. That great Prophet was Jesus, born of Mary of the house of David in David’s royal city of Bethlehem. Jesus was the one who came after John, whom John prepared the people in repentance and faith to receive. Jesus was the one who, through faith in Him, made John’s baptism a real and efficacious baptism. Jesus was the one who, once He had been baptized Himself, was crucified, died, rose again, and ascended to His Father in heaven that He might send forth the Holy Spirit, fulfilling John’s baptism and replacing it with Holy Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. While John the Baptist was a “voice crying out in the wilderness,” Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh that the voice of John spoke and pointed to. “The transition from John to Jesus is the transition from the old to the new, from the promise to the fulfillment, from the shadow to the Light, from the type to the reality, from the earthly to that which from all eternity was in the beginning.”
Rejoice! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice!” Truly, there is reason for rejoicing. Truly, there is a reason that we rejoice in the remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ birth each year at Christmas. The fulfillment of the LORD’s promises made to Adam and Eve, and to our enemy Satan, has come in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seed of the woman who has crushed the ancient serpent’s head. Through Jesus, the Prophet the LORD has raised up from among you, you have Peace with God. God’s Peace to you is a gift – a perfect, holy, and salvific gift. There is no reason for anxiety or fear, but let the Peace God has given you in Jesus Christ guard your hearts and your minds. No longer need you fear the thunder and lightning, smoke and terror of the LORD in His holiness and might, for you have an intercessor, one who speaks a good word of you before the Father, one who has done all things well, with whom the Father is well pleased. It is to Him that John’s preaching and baptism pointed, and it is in Him that they are fulfilled. You have been baptized into Him, and His righteousness is now yours. Even now the LORD showers down upon you His righteousness. Come, eat, and be forgiven anew. Come, drink, and be refreshed. Let your hearts be open that the LORD’s salvation and righteousness may bear fruit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.