daily biblical sermons


JOHN THE BAPTIST AND THE WONDER OF GRACE THAT JESUS CHRIST HAS BROUGHT US
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Thursday, Second Week of Advent, December 14, 2017
Isaiah 41:13-20, Psalm 144, Matthew 11:11-15


Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

 

"Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:11).


We deal much with John the Baptist during Advent. He is the one who is in the desert preparing the way of the Lord, making straight his paths. He is our Advent prophet and preacher, helping us by his example to prepare the way of the Lord.


John lived an ascetical life, dressed not in the soft clothing of the city, but in camel's hair, and his food was locusts and wild honey. He left the pleasures, noise, distractions, attractions, and temptations of the city and village behind him and lived a solitary life of prayer and fasting in the desert. He sought the deeper spiritual manifestation of the Lord in a desert wasteland, in the wilderness, where, for the love of God, he made his home. Jesus gives him high praise today for his wonderful way of life and for his heroic self-denial for the love of God. John the Baptist wanted his whole heart to be totally devoted to the Lord, not divided by the worldly pleasures and temptations of the city. "Truly, I say to you," Jesus said, "among those born of women there has risen no one greater John the Baptist" (Matthew 11:11).


Advent is a period of preparation for the celebration of Christmas. John the Baptist is our Advent preacher. The desert is the location where we are to spend Advent, preparing the way of the Lord, preparing our hearts to receive him in a deeper way.


We know the great difference that Christ makes in our life. He redeems us from our sins and from their punishment by God. He takes our punishment for our past sins upon himself and atones for our sins before God by suffering their just punishment himself in his death on the cross. He is our substitute on the cross, paying for us our debt of punishment that we owed God for our sins. Once our sins have been duly, justly, and fully punished and paid for in Christ's death on the cross, God acquits us of all sin and guilt, lets us go free, and declares us righteous, with no further debt to pay.


But for this act of justification to actually take place in me personally I must do two things: 1) I must thoroughly and genuinely repent of my sins and have a firm purpose of amending my life, that is, of abandoning my sins, and 2) I must believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord whom I will henceforth follow and obey, and as my Savior whose death pays my debt with God and thereby justifies me, making me, who was formerly an ungodly sinner, now righteous, just, and holy before God.


My justification comes to me because of Christ's work on the cross in atoning for my sins, and it is actualized in me by my faith, not by my works, as St. Paul constantly teaches and reminds us. My repentance is not a work but rather a firm intention and promise to amend my life, starting now. At this point, when I make this act of faith and intend to amend my life, I am justified, that is, declared and made righteous by God, before I begin to do even a single good work.


But then, once justified, I must immediately cooperate with God's grace of justification and begin a new life of good works. I must leave my old sinful way of living, my "old man," and put on the "new man," dead with Christ on the cross to sin and to my former sinful ways and risen with him to walk now in newness of life (Romans 6:4).


It is this grand transformation, which Christ works in us who believe in him, that we celebrate at Christmas. This is the inner joyful reality behind all our exultant songs that we sing at Christmas. This inner reality is what gives meaning to our Christmas celebration. We are thanking and praising God for the wonders that he has worked in us in transforming our life, in forgiving our sins, in lifting our guilt and sadness and depression for our sins from us, and in giving us a new life in Jesus Christ, a new start in this world. That is why the choir and trumpets blast out on Christmas Day, "Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing."


Henceforth we ungodly sinners live because of and for "him who justifies the ungodly" (Romans 4:5), for "Christ died for the ungodly" (Romans 5:6). "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We live a new life, because "we are now justified by his blood" (Romans 5:9).


Our new life is to be a life of sanctification, which means doing good works, avoiding sin, and keeping God's moral law, which our justification now enables us to keep. As a "new man" in Christ (Ephesians 4:22-24) I must now regard Jesus Christ as both my Lord and my Savior. "As my Lord" means that he is now my master whom I follow and obey, whose moral law I now keep. "As my Savior" means that I owe my redemption from my past wayward and sinful life to him and to him alone. He is the only one who paid my price and atoned for my former sins and offenses.


This, of course, is not just for Christmas but for every day of the whole year. But understanding what Christ has done for us all year long is what gives such joy to our celebration of Christmas. We sing the most beautiful songs of joy at Christmas that move us so deeply, precisely because Christ has done all this for us.


Advent is the preparatory phase of all this, and John the Baptist represents Advent and the spirit and meaning of Advent for us. As we celebrate at Christmas, so should we be praying and fasting and preparing ourselves in the desert during Advent, living in solitude and silence, contemplating and meditating on the wonders of this season, as the liturgy presents them to us each day.


Jesus tells us today, "Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater that John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he" (Matthew 11:11). As great as John the Baptist was, preparing for Christ in the desert, "the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."


That means that you and I are greater that John the Baptist if we believe in Jesus and are justified by him, because this wonder of justification was not yet clearly revealed or understood or fully attainable by John the Baptist and all those who still lived in the old covenant. The fact that small people like you and I are greater than the greatest person ever to be born shows the greatness of what Jesus Christ has done for us. It is this wonder of what Christ has done for us, through our faith in him, that we celebrate and rejoicing in during the Advent/Christmas season.

 

 

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