Sermon for Nativity of John the Baptist
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You have heard of Christmas in July. Well, this is Advent in June. John the Baptist is usually a character we hear about in Advent. We Lutherans tend to ignore the saints days unless one of the main Bible characters has a day that falls on a Sunday. That happened this week. That’s why the paraments are white today.
I like to remember the saints. I think it is good to remember our heritage in the faith. The saints provide an example for us. They show us that others who are human like us can share the good news of the saving love of God.
They show us that our ancestors have gone before us and our descendants will come after us. Sharing their stories helps us know we are part of a much bigger story, God’s story.
June 24th is the feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. We know from the story in the first chapter of Luke that John was born six months before Jesus. When the angel Gabriel visits Mary, he tells Mary that Elizabeth is in her sixth month. June 24th is six months before Christmas.
It is also a few days after the summer solstice, the day with the most hours of daylight. The church also remembers birth of John the Baptist in the season when the time of daylight is getting shorter in the northern hemisphere.
We remember the birth of Jesus when the time of daylight is getting longer. This is because John said, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”
Saints are usually remembered on their heavenly birthday, that is the date of their death, so today is an unusual feast day. John is unusual because we have a story about his birth in the Bible. We don’t have many birth stories. The story of his death will come up in our readings later this summer, but today we remember his birth.
John is an unusual character in many respects. He is born to elderly parents who had thought they couldn’t have children. The angel Gabriel visited Zechariah, his father, who was a priest in the Jerusalem Temple.
Gabriel told Zechariah that he and Elizabeth would have a son. When Zechariah asked for proof, the angel got a little testy and said, “OK, here’s your proof. You won’t be able to speak a word until it happens.”
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel.” Those were his first words. John’s father Zechariah spoke for the first time in nine months. That was quite a faith statement. He joyfully praised God.
Then the Holy Spirit gave Zechariah prophetic words. A prophet is not just someone who tells what is going to happen. A prophet is someone who tells the truth, God’s truth. Zechariah spoke of God’s truth, both past and present.
It has been said that if you don’t know history, you are doomed to repeat it. John’s father reminded the people of their history, their heritage, our heritage. He tells us we are all part of a much larger story.
Paul also reminds us of the same heritage in the second lesson. He and Zechariah tell us the same story, the story of our ancestors.
The story of our ancestors is all about the story of their relationship with God. God made a covenant with our ancestor, Abraham. God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. God always loved and cared for Abraham even when Abraham didn’t always trust God.
God made a covenant with our ancestor, Moses. Through Moses, God led the people out of slavery, through the Red Sea. The people wandered, and God put up with them and cared for them in the wilderness for forty years.
Then God gave them the land of Canaan. They lived there with the judges as their rulers for many years. Then they asked God for a king and God gave them Saul. Saul ruled for forty years then God chose David as king. David is remembered as the greatest king. Jesus is descended from David.
But, before Jesus, we have the last prophet of the Old Covenant, John the Baptist. Like the prophets before him, John reminded the people of all that God had done for them.
Like his father, Zechariah, he reminded everyone that God rescued our ancestors in the past. He reminded our ancestors to repent and return to the Lord. He reminded them to worship the Lord in holiness and righteousness.
John’s parents and all their neighbors and relatives knew he would be special when he was born. They knew that God was doing a new thing. They all wondered what this child would become. Zechariah prophesied that John would prepare the way for the Messiah, the Christ.
“And John grew and became strong in spirit, and was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.” We know the story from there.
John preached that people should repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. Baptism was a sign that they had turned their lives around and were committed to following the Lord in righteousness. Like the prophets before him, John reminded our ancestors to repent and return to the Lord.
Jesus began his ministry by asking John to baptize him to fulfill God’s righteousness. We also are baptized to fulfill God’s righteousness because Jesus has commanded it.
Unlike Jesus, but like our ancestors, we need forgiveness for our sins. We need to repent and return to the Lord daily and remember all that the Lord has done for us. We need to worship the Lord in holiness and righteousness.
John the Baptist is one of our ancestors in the faith. The stories of our ancestors are the stories of their relationship with God. John’s whole life was dedicated to preparing the way for Jesus Christ. God began to do a new thing with John. John prepared the way for the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
We give thanks for the birth and life of John the Baptist today because he dedicated his life to preparing the way for the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.
It is that New Covenant, the new way of living in relationship with God, that we celebrate today. We celebrate as we remember that we are baptized children of God.
When we were baptized our parents also wondered what we would become. We are Abraham’s descendants through faith. Like our ancestors, our stories are also all about our relationship with God.
Our relationship is with the God of our ancestors who came down to us in Jesus Christ and gave his life for us. We celebrate as we remember Christ is with us in this meal and gives us the forgiveness of sins through the New Covenant of his body and blood.
With our ancestors, we say, Blessed be the Lord God of Israel. Amen.