Midweek Advent 3:
In the year 1532, Martin Luther preached a sermon about John the Baptist in which he said this:
“The real reason for observing St John, is not because of his austere life, not because of his phenomenal birth, but because of his beloved finger, because of his message and his office.”
The most important thing about John the Baptist was his finger!
St. John the Baptist was a unique man. He is rightly called the last of the Old Testament prophets. He is the last one to preach the Gospel before the Savior came. John is also the first of the New Testament preachers. His calling was to point out Christ for the world and to identify, for the people, the man who is God in the Flesh, Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
Some people would like to remember John simply because of the strange circumstances surrounding his birth: the angel’s announcing his coming to his father, Zechariah, and striking him unable to speak until his birth; the birth of John to Elisabeth, who was well beyond her childbearing years. Some think John should be remembered for the kind of life he lived: a harsh and strange life dressed in camel’s hair, eating locusts and wild honey. Some remember John for his harsh preaching against the self-righteous Pharisees. Many would say that John’s death by beheading by King Herod was what made John most famous.
We are going to cast all of these aside today and remember St. John the Baptist for his finger. That’s right, his finger. Because of all the things that John the Baptist did, the most important was what he did with his finger: he pointed to Christ. He pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He did this in fulfillment of his father’s words: “You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way; to give His people knowledge of salvation, in the forgiveness of their sins,” (St. Luke 1:76-77).
John’s finger pointed to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And that is salvation for you and I, who are also finger-pointers. But when you and I “point the finger” we don’t point to Jesus. When we point fingers we are pointing them at each other. From the highest levels of scandal in world government and big corporations to kids running around outdoors and getting into trouble, “finger-pointing” is our thing.
Our finger-pointing even does double duty! When we point the finger at someone to blame them, we are making them the one responsible for whatever problems there are, while at the same time trying to escape our own responsibility and blame! Oh yes, the way in which we love to point the finger, lay the blame, and try to save ourselves is the way of people in this fallen world. Has been from the beginning with Adam and Eve blaming.
For a world full of such finger-pointing people comes the finger of John the Baptist, pointing not to the sins of others but to the Lamb of God. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” (John 1:29).
Dear Christians, follow the finger of John the Baptist! See to Whom it points: to the Lamb of God. Zechariah doesn’t just sing because of John’s birth. No! He sings God’s praises, recognizing God’s plan of salvation, which is coming to fulfillment in his time.
Zechariah saw the big picture of God’s activity, in what God was doing for His people in Christ. The promise to Abraham fills the song of Zechariah. In Abraham’s seed, Christ, all the nations of the earth are blessed.
Zechariah, filled by the Holy Spirit, sings of it all. Zechariah speaks with Gabriel, “His name is John.” It was the name given by the angel, the name John which means “the Lord is gracious.” He indeed is gracious to save from our enemies of sin, death, and the devil.
Dear Christians, repent of your own finger-pointing! Receive the forgiveness from such finger-pointing that Jesus gives, to Whom all things point. And learn, then, to use your fingers for good and not for evil! Use them for pointing others to Christ, not for pointing out their sins. Husbands and wives, instead of pointing out what’s wrong with each other, point one another to your rings and vows and the grace of God binds you together. Parents, point you kids always to the Font and Altar as the sure and certain means of knowing that God loves them in Christ. All of you: whether you’re on the playground, or at work, or with friends or family – learn to stop pointing out the sins of others, whether to blame them, or excuse yourself, or to make others laugh at them!
Rather, point one another to Christ and to His means of grace and to His forgiveness. Point to each other and proclaim, “you are one for whom our Lord took flesh, one for whom Christ died.”
The finger still points, always. John’s bony finger points to give us “knowledge of salvation in the forgiveness of our sins,” points to “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” Jesus Christ, our Savior.
In Him we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins. God has had mercy upon us and has given his only Son to die for us and for his sake forgives us all our sins. We have the light of the knowledge of God shining in our hearts, the Holy Spirit giving us the gift of faith through the preaching of the gospel. This is the light that dispels our darkness. This is the light of life that conquers death. Jesus Christ, risen from the dead–Jesus Christ, light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.
As we receive and confess this Gospel, like Zechariah our mouths are opened, our tongues are loosed, and we sing with great joy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.” Indeed, Jesus is here for you always. Amen.