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Sermon for the Nativity of John the Baptist

Augustana, 2012

Click here for mp3 audio 41 Sermon for the Nativity of John the Baptist.mp3

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Have any plans for summer?  We just finished with Vacation Bible School and now we have plans to take a couple youth to the Higher Things youth conference in Winston-Salem. I have some plans for vacation after that.  We all love it when plans come together.  Family plans for birthdays or reunions, travel plans and reservations and itineraries, financial plans with saving and investing and meeting goals so that we can retire.  Career plans—schooling that ideally leads to a job and a job that leads to a promotion.  If we fail to plan, they say, we plan to fail.  The Bible, too, shows that the God is a master planner.  How wonderful it is to have someone who never lies, who never seeks to exploit, or bungle the job be in charge of the universe and all of human history and human destiny.

The coming of Jesus into the world to redeem all humanity was God’s plan all along.  I feel like I need to explain just a bit about why we’re observing this day.  The Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist is one of the eight “principal feasts of Christ,” so the note on the calendar in our hymnal and as such are “normally observed when they occur on a Sunday.”  (LSB, xi)  We should keep each of these “feasts of Christ” because they remind us of the plan of God for the salvation of the world in real time.  Gabriel’s announcement to Mary heard on the Annunciation, Mary’s visit with Elizabeth on the Visitation, John’s nativity, the nativity of Jesus at Christmas, His circumcision on the eighth day and the first shedding of blood, and Mary’s purification and Jesus presentation in the temple, on the 40th day after Jesus was born.  John the Baptist’s nativity is six months before Jesus’ nativity as it was thought that John was about six months older than Jesus.  And so God’s plan of His Son entering into human flesh is told over the course of the whole year. Today in our gospel reading we have a wonderful opportunity to see and hear God’s plan coming together.

As with many of our plans, they don’t always work out.  My career plans when I was 9 were to be an astronaut and now look at me.  Some of our plans are just ill-informed or the deck is stacked against us.  Other times our plans fail because we procrastinate or we lose focus.  Still at other times our plans fail because we forget how hard it is to accomplish something in a fallen, sin-twisted world.  And then when things fall apart, rather than seeing these things as setbacks and challenges, we become embittered and cynical.  This happens on the personal level and it happens in organizations too.  A failure leads to negativity that discourages others and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  And still other times, our plans come together but they don’t work out like we’d hoped.  We work our plan.  We make our goals and milestones but then we arrive at the destination and we realize it wasn’t what we’d truly wanted or needed or never what he intended it to be.

All of us have seen our best-laid plans go awry, as the saying goes.  Ultimately, all these failures can be traced back to sin, both that of others and our own.  Zechariah in our reading, had experienced this sort of thing too, so when God let him in on a major development in His plan, Zechariah was quite sure it wouldn’t work out.

You remember the grand news.  The angel Gabriel had come to Zechariah and announced that he and his wife Elizabeth, old and advanced in years, would have a son, John, the one who came to be called the Baptist.  But more than that, John’s coming meant that God’s Messiah, long promised for thousands of years, was coming right along after him, because John’s job would be to prepare the way of the Messiah.  All of this was according to God’s glorious plan promised since the fall of Adam and developed throughout the Old Testament.

But Zechariah was like you and me.  All his experiences told him that the Gabriel had the wrong man.  He and Elizabeth were just way too old.  If God had planned to use them, he missed His window long ago to give them a child.  What’s more, the situation was not right.  Mighty Rome was in charge and the religious leaders of Jerusalem were corrupt and did Rome’s bidding.  If God was choosing this time to redeem Israel, the obstacles were just too great.  So Zechariah didn’t believe this plan of God was happening, not now, not with him and his wife.

And do you remember what happened next?  Gabriel, a messenger of the most high God does not like to be second guessed.  “And the angel answered him, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.’” (Lk 1:20-21)  Now isn’t that just like God?  He strikes his man mute and leaves the pagan Romans and the corrupt religious leaders untouched.  Unable to speak, Zechariah apparently began to watch more carefully the beginnings of what he had counted impossible.

Elizabeth conceives.  Mary is told by the same angel she will miraculous conceive the Son of the Most High God, even though she has never known a man.  She goes to visit Elizabeth where she and Zechariah were living and John leaps in Elizabeth’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice.  Mary utters a prophesy we call the Magnificat where she tells what all her son will do.    At the appointed time, John is born and taken to the temple to be circumcised and named and Zechariah has seen enough.  His tongue is miraculous loosed and he prophesies.  John’s birth and Zechariah’s song signaled that all God’s plans were coming together.  Undoubtedly Zechariah also had given some thought to why the boy’s name should be John, which means “The Lord has shown favor.”  He and Elizabeth knew they had been highly favored by God to receive this child in their old age.  They had been part of God’s plan all along.

Zechariah might have also thought about the name his parents had given him.  Zechariah means, “the Lord remembers.”  What does the Lord remember?  Thankfully the Lord remembers not the sins and failings of His people.  No, the Lord remembers his gracious plans to fulfill them to bless His people.

When Zechariah is allowed to speak again, he speaks with wisdom from God.  We call Zechariah’s Song the Benedictus, like Mary’s Magnificat, it is so named for the first word in the Latin translation.  The Spirit brought these words from Zechariah’s lips.  We can hear echoes from the Psalms, echoes of God’s promises throughout the Old Testament.  God caused Zechariah to remember over a dozen Old Testament passages filled with the promises that the Lord had made to Israel and that He was already beginning to fulfill in the birth of John.  Christians have been singing the Benedictus since at least the 9th century because the Benedictus affirms that God’s plan has come together.

Above all, Zechariah prophesied that God’s plan to send His Messiah was already being fulfilled in the birth of his son the forerunner.  God gave words to Isaiah to prophesy of the Messiah’s forerunner some seven hundred years before (Isa. 40:3-5).  God had promised to Malachi that the forerunner would come some four hundred years before (Mal 3:1, 4:5-6).  He had not forgotten His promises.  All of this coming to pass before Zechariah and Elizabeth and John meant that the grand plan to send Jesus, the Messiah, was coming to fruition.  Jesus, God’s own Son dwelling in human flesh, came at just the right time.  He lived a sinless life under the Law that all humankind had failed to do.  On the cross, Jesus suffered and atoned for all people’s failures to keep God’s perfect Law.  When Jesus rose from the grave He showed His victory over the penalty for not keeping the Law of God, death itself.  Jesus promised to come again at just the right time to usher in the kingdom of heaven in all its fullness.

Jesus has come and demonstrated God’s resolve and power to deliver on all of His promises.  John the Baptizer was commissioned by God to prepare the world for Jesus, the Messiah’s coming.  The Church, made up of sinners like you and me, has been commissioned to prepare the world for Jesus’ final coming, the consummation of God’s plan of redemption for the world.  Do we see the world like Zechariah saw his world?  Do we doubt that the Lord will ever make good on His final promise?  Will we find ourselves speechless to those who need to hear the Gospel to be prepared for that day?  Have we failed to remember God’s promises?  Let us instead be students of the Scriptures like Zechariah was.  Let us praise God for all He has already done.  Let us discover even more examples of God working to fulfill His plan of redemption for the world and declare to all who will hear the mighty works of our God, His great love and compassion for the children of humanity.  And let us long for that day when the Lord finally makes good, when the fullness of God’s plan comes together for all eternity.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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