Advent 3: John 1:6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61
Dear people of God at Bethlehem, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Waiting is not something most of us do well. Our world and society is built towards impatience. Companies and products thrive on our impatience. We are so accustomed to drive-thru lanes, microwaves, information a click away and even seconds accounted for in internet speeds, even products shipped on Amazon are promised anywhere in the country usually in two days. Much of our literature is less developed, many of our songs and music lack depth and are rather quick catchy phrases without much meaning but sound good. And truth be told, we’d rather sermons and Bible studies be more suited for quick posts and Tweets, quick phrases without full substance. The same mentality and culture also thrives towards moving on. There is often a hurriedness towards the next step, the next phase and a lack of contentment and enjoyment of what is present.
This is often our struggle with Advent. We want Christmas now. Most are fine with waiting the first week after Thanksgiving, perhaps willing to give a small wait, but really four weeks of Advent seems like such a drag. Because we don’t like waiting. Especially when we can see what is coming. Because Advent drags on for four whole weeks and we’d rather just get to glitz and sparkle of Christmas.
I’d imagine that the church today wouldn’t have much to do with John the Baptist, well let’s be honest, much of the church today doesn’t have much to do with John the Baptist. Partially because John is just strange. Partially because John doesn’t come with cute messages, angels, and glitz. He’s not exactly all that nice and welcoming. Most congregations probably wouldn’t call him to be their pastor. He didn’t give cute stories, and he never brought in a personal touch. Just lead the people through God’s Word to repent of sin and pointed everyone to Jesus. And partially because to really understand we’d have to dig deeper than a few short catchy verses and look at things in depth of the Old Testament.
Last week in Bible Study we looked the prophecies concerning Elijah’s return and John’s fulfillment of them in many ways. Elijah the hairy one with a leather belt, in the Jordan wilderness, and now likewise John. Yet, they ask if he is Elijah and John says plainly, no. Yet Jesus makes it clear that John is Elijah who is to come (Matt. 11). Perhaps it is as one of my seminary professors, Dr. Masaki, would often say, “you ask the wrong question.” They were waiting for the return of the same Elijah in the flesh as accounted for in Kings. They were looking for one a Prophet who would come to proclaim the Messiah would come and give them back their kingdom.
Truth be told, they were growing weary of waiting. It had been 400 years since the last prophetic word from Malachi. It’s even been 30 years since the angel Gabriel had spoken of this child, much of what had been said long forgotten of John being the forerunner of the Christ. Everyone in the church would rather John not focus on calls of repentance and use of Old Testament phrases and just say he is Elijah or just say who Jesus is and how He will redeem the world. Of course, then they’d probably be shocked to learn they will crucify Him.
In all four accounts from the Gospel John says a peculiar phrase that gives additional insight to his message, “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.” We usually put it as John saying he can’t even do a demeaning job for the One who is God in flesh, which is true. But just as we understand “the Lamb of God” in reference to the Old Testament lamb sacrificed, so must we hear John’s words. As Jesus let’s us know, all Scripture speaks of his death and resurrection (Luke 24).
There is this notion throughout the Old Testament, especially the early books, that a brother must carry on the name of his older brother. Perhaps you’ve heard of it, it is called leverite marriage. Deuteronomy 25 lays it out well for us. You see in Israelite culture, removing someone’s sandal was not a job of lowly servants but was done as a public display of dishonor for one who did not do their job within the family. This isn’t all that obscure of a reference, this removing of the sandal and marriage is largely the basis of the book of Ruth.
In saying that he is not worthy to untie the sandal, John proclaims that He is not the bridegroom of Israel. Just as all the Prophets who had come before. Moses had to remove his sandals at the burning bush, Joshua had to remove his sandals in God’s presence, because they were not the one to redeem Israel to purchase their salvation. John was not either. In John 3 John continues, “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”
For the one who wears the sandals is the one who rescues the poor from their debts (Lev. 25), buys the land of what was lost by the family, redeems from slavery, seeks justice, and does it on all with nothing to gain for Himself but on behalf of others (Numbers 35).
As long as they had been waiting, John does plainly say the same thing the angel Gabriel had proclaimed of him 30 years prior, he is the voice of the wilderness prophecies by Isaiah. He is not the one to redeem Israel, he is not the one to save. He is not Elijah, but he is the one prophesied about who comes in the spirit of Elijah.
In looking for immediate answers and quick responses, they missed it. As Jesus would often say, “he who has ears to hear let him hear.” Ears of faith that receive every Word of the Scriptures in full context and always pointing to Jesus in every way. The One who wears the sandal, the One who redeems His bride, Israel, the Church, the One who pays the debt of our sin in death on our behalf, the One who saves us.
This Advent, with fuller pictures of the Old Testament, with every breath and Word leading toward Jesus we are lead in greater anticipation. As we search for quick answers and quick fixes, let us look to Him who comes in anticipation, the One long prophesied and foretold, the One who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and wears the sandal, our bridegroom.
As John says, the one who has the bride is the bridegroom. Jesus has His Church. Old Testament Church, New Testament Church, it’s all the same bride. He is the One to fulfill all that has been awaited for, including that spoken of by Isaiah, the One who brings good news to the poor, that our debt of death is paid, who are set free from sin, comforted by Him, who receive and love justice.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.” (Is 61).
You are covered in His righteousness, clothed in Him. With greater fulfillment than our fastest technologies and conveniences. It comes by Him who is the light of the world, our bridegroom, our redeemer, who comes to purchase and redeem us in death and resurrection. You are decked in the fulness and beauty of the bridegroom, as we await Him who comes.
This Advent, let us continue to rejoice in every Word that comes from the mouth of God, as we wait in eager anticipation of Him who is the Word made flesh. That we may receive Him with greater faith and joy. For the year of the Lord has come in Him who has the Spirit of the Lord, who is anointed to bring good news of great joy. May this continue to be a time a repentance, as we turn from sin, to make straight the way of the Lord. Always looking and trusting that which John says in the next verse after our reading today, the next day of Him who comes, “behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
Thanks be to God who fulfills His Word and promises in every way, in great detail, that our hearts and minds may be prepared to receive Him in faith. That we receive a great amount of forgiveness, and receive complete and perfectly fulfilled righteousness, clothed and covered in His robe of righteousness. God grant that we rejoice in this season and as Mary will soon, treasure all these things in our hearts. May we be content and rejoice this Advent, in Him who comes, our bridegroom, as we continue to wait for Him once again to come again in resurrection glory.
In the name of the Father and of + the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.