Behold, the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sin of the world!
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today we revisit John's preaching. Or rather, it revisits us. And from it we learn that John's preaching of “repentance of sin” was not a complete message. It couldn't be. Something was missing. As when someone begins to tell you something of great importance, of great interest to you, and then stops abruptly in the middle of the conversation and you're left waiting for more.
John's preaching of repentance is like this. It was a start. A good start, a true start, but only a start. It was a preparation, a leading. And where there is preparation and leading, where there is the start of a journey, there must also be the destination, something at the end, some reward that is hoped for but not quite realized yet, something we can't yet see (that's just beyond the horizon), but we believe we will eventually behold.
Today, we reach that destination, the end and reward of our journey through John's preaching. Or rather, the journey John's preaching takes through us. Today, we behold what we had hoped for. “Behold,” John concludes, pointing to Jesus, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
[I called you to repentance, and baptized you into a baptism of repentance, an incomplete and unfulfilled baptism and preaching. But now it is complete, here is the One who completes it!]”
With these words, John's conversation with us is over. His preaching is now full and complete. Whatever was left in the balance, is now satisfied. The Forerunner has finished His leg of the race. The preaching baton has been passed on. A new day of preaching and teaching has begun; because the task is now taken up by the very One whom the preaching and teaching is about, even Jesus the Christ. But neither does it stop at Jesus. Jesus passes preaching task along to the Apostles, and the Apostles to the pastors of the Early Church, and the Early Church down through the ages to the Church today. Not a disjointed preaching, but united, held together by a single golden thread, which is Christ our Lord and His Word. The journey of God's Word throughout the centuries, now given to us, organized liturgically in what we call the Church Year.
You see, this is the purpose and benefit of the Church Year: to bring us into this Spiritual journeying, to teach us and preach to us along the way. Notice how the progression of the Church Year works: We start out in Advent with the Preparation of Repentance. Right away (the second Sunday of Advent as a matter of fact) we are shocked into repentance by John and His fire and brimstone preaching. And His message echoes throughout the rest of the season, “Repent, repent,” leading us to sorrow over our sin, while, at the same time, whetting our appetite for more teaching, more preaching. After all, if John is calling for us to release our sins, there must be One who will take them up. But then it sort of stops, we're left without more teaching from John, we're left waiting. Right in the middle of the conversation, when we were just getting interested, realizing the importance of John's message, it all comes to an abrupt pause. That's when Christmas comes and our attention is re-focused on something else, something greater, as it should be, and we just sort of forget about John for a while, that is.
I mean, consider the progression of the Church Year historically for a moment; it's actually quite awkward. We begin the 1st Sunday in Advent in about A+D 30 with Palm Sunday, then we rewind three years to John's preaching of repentance in the wilderness, then at Christmas we rewind 30 more years to the birth of Jesus, then throughout the Christmas season we run quickly through Jesus' childhood until we arrive at Jesus in the Temple at the age of 12. Then 6 days later at the service of the Epiphany of Our Lord, we rewind again about 10 years to the Magi worshiping the toddler Jesus, then three days later (which was last Sunday) we jump forward about 28 years to Jesus' Baptism. Back and forth, and forth and back, what's the deal, anyway?
The “deal” is to teach us to be Christian. To be Christian is to be, at one and the same time, waiting and no longer waiting; waiting for our blessed future with great anticipation and hope and also living in the confidence of the fulfillment of that hope in the present. Salvation, dear Christian, is: NOW and NOT YET. You are baptized, you are saved, it is finished, and yet there is more. Eternity is yours now, yet you are still waiting to fully realize and experience eternity when Christ comes again in glory.
This is faith, a living out of our hope, and it is most dramatically experienced in the celebration of Holy Communion. The Lord's Supper is both a waiting and a fulfillment, all at the same time. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; right here, among us, really, truly present in flesh and blood, as He promises in His Word, His last and new testament. It truly is Jesus, fully, and yet there is more awaiting us, more to come. This is a foretaste of the feast to come. The eternal wedding banquet is being experienced today at this altar, and yet will be even more fully experienced in the New heavens and the new earth. Now and not yet. A blessed paradox, understood only by faith, taught to us by Christ in His Word, encased in the beautiful wrapping of the historic Church Year.
Let the Church Year, then, teach you. Let the ebbs and flows of Sacred Time lead you to be who you are made to be in Baptism, namely, a Christian, a disciple of Christ. Come along each and every step of the way, seeing where Jesus, by His Spirit in His Word, will bring us. “Rabbi [Teacher], where are you staying?” the disciples asked Jesus. He said to them, “Come and you will see.”
As a whole unit, from the beginning of Advent to the end of Epiphany and on into the rest of the Year, we are taught that we aren't left waiting forever. Yes, something is left in the balance (for a while), but it is soon fulfilled: called to repentance by John's preaching in Advent, forgiven by John's preaching in Epiphany. Just as Jesus' purpose is fulfilled outside of Jerusalem on the barren wood of the cross, so John's purpose is fulfilled outside of Jerusalem in the barren wilderness of the desert.
Your repentance of sin has found it's fulfillment in this One, the Lamb of God, the One taking your sin away. Behold, Forgiveness come in the flesh. Come, and see!
In +Jesus name. Amen.