In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
And in response to so great a salvation how can we not rejoice? How can we not be gracious and forbearing with those who wrong us and our Lord or malign us and our Lord? This forbearance is different than a passivity which simply takes the abuse of others and says, “Thank you. May I have some more?” This graciousness responds, but it responds in peace, free of hostility, in the confidence that Christ has already overcome the world; that He has been given all authority in heaven and earth; that even their hostility toward you will pass away for He rules all things so that many will be saved, including you, and prayerfully them also.
So when you are attacked—when your faith is attacked—do not attack back. Do not get that snitty, hurt tone in your voice. Don’t pack up your toys and go home like a petulant child. Instead count yourself blessed to suffer for your Lord. And respond simply with the bravery that comes from Him and confessing—that is saying same thing Lord has said to you—who your saving God is. That He has saved all people from their sin.
And I know you haven’t done this. I know I haven’t done this. We have too often stayed silent. Or spoken from hurt and anger rather than this gracious confidence that our Lord has overcome their unbelief. For that repent. For instead of being gracious, forbearing, we are afraid. We are petulant. We get caught up in arguments, rather than graciously smiling and saying, “Jesus is Lord of all. He is saviour of all. Repent and believe on Him.” And we flee to our coffee clutches at church or elsewhere and complain about how awful the world is these days. We complain about how the world doesn’t keep Christ in Christmas. And of course it doesn’t! The world doesn’t believe in Christ. It’s not the world’s job to keep Christ in Christmas. It is the Church’s job, those who are called out of the world into the glorious light of Christ, to shine that light into the darkness of the world, keeping Christ in Christmas. We are the ones who bring Christ to the world. We do it not merely by wishing people a merry Christmas but by living in the vocations God calls you to. By speaking in those callings to the ones you are called to love and serve and confessing with the one voice of Christ’s Church that He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He rose on the third day and ascended into heaven. That’s how Christ is kept in Christmas. If Christ isn’t in Christmas, don’t blame the world, instead repent of how you have excluded Christ not merely from Christmas but from every aspect of your life.
That was John’s calling. He was not granted the vocations of husband or father. He was called to make straight the path of the Lord. He did not minister to his own family members as we must, for he was an orphan, and he was not granted the blessings of spouse or children. Instead he was called to preach in the wilderness. To call those who might believe out into the wilderness, the wilderness of their own sin, to stare it in the face, to repent of it, and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sin.
His baptism straightened the path of the Christ, and brought the Messiah, the anointed one, into their lives by anointing them with water. John was not the Christ. He was merely a herald of the Christ who went before Him to prepare His way.
He did not need to attack or defend himself from the Pharisees sent out to test and question him. He simply confessed with one voice, the voice of Scripture, “I am not the Christ.” “Well then are you, Elijah?” Elijah was next on their list for the last statement of the last book of Old Testament, written 400 years earlier said, “Behold I will send Elijah the prophet before the Lord comes.” “So are you Elijah reincarnate?” “No. I’m not, literally, Elijah.” If they’d asked, “Are you the Elijah who will prepare way of Lord?” his answer might have been different. But the point is. He forbears with them, with their unbelief, he doesn’t attack. He simply confesses with the voice of the Church, even quoting the voice of the Church by quoting the Scriptures.
All these things happened on the other side of the Jordan River in Bethany which means, “house of affliction.” This too is our job on this side of Jordan in our house of affliction. For we shall not cross over our Jordan into that land promised to us by our Lord till we die or the Lord comes again. But in the midst of our affliction on this side of Jordan, in the house of affliction, we are baptized. We are called God’s own. We are called to confess Him and to bear with those who do not do so that through us they might be called to repentance. For it is not for us to judge the world. Instead, out of love we work for what is good, right and just in the world and we confess the truth of Christ. But you can’t tell the world to put Christ in Christmas without first putting Christ into the world by your confession.
For just like the world, we too are soiled and stained with sin. We too are not worthy to untie the sandals of our Lord anymore than the world is. You can imagine untying shoes has got to be worst job in the world. Washing stinky feet that have been locked up in work boots all day long, out in a manure filled farm yard, or a chemical contaminated work site, or treading the dusty, trash filled streets of Jesus’ day has to be the worst job imaginable. But Jesus is so righteous that if we were to touch His feet we wouldn't contaminate Him, He'd righteous-ify us. We are not worthy of Him, even to serve Him as the lowest of the low. Yet He declares us worthy to be His temple in which He lives through repentance and Baptism. He cleanses our lips with His body and blood so that our mouths become vessels of His holy Word which brings Him into the world. And so we put the Christ in Christmas by keeping Christ in us, and through us in the world.
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church,
Thunder Bay, ON