John, the Greatest Born Among Women

Series B  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented
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John 1:6-8, 19-28 and Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen!
The Lord says of John the Baptist that “among those born of women none is greater than John” (Lk 7:28). And in what way was this the case? For John did not live in luxury in the palace of a king, wearing fine clothes. But instead he wandered the desert and wore roughhewn clothes of camels hair. He ate nothing but wild honey, which I think would be fine, and locusts, which I would prefer not eat. Although I have heard that a plump locust tastes very much like shrimp. He did not command armies and conquer the known world like Alexander, he commanded nothing but his own voice. He had no store house of riches like Crassus nor the controlling interest in a fortune 500 company. He lived at the edge of society with not a penny to his name.
In the world’s accounting, John was a man of no account. So how is it that he should be regarded as the greatest and the most blessed of all men? Man in paradise, before the fall into sin, had blissful communion with God. We hear in the first chapters of Genesis how God created man and woman in his image, in the image of God He created them, and how he would walk in the garden with them. How our first parents in their primordial innocence and righteousness blissfully received the good gifts of God until that fateful day of rebellion and sin. That day when their affections and passions, no longer trusting in God, disorder by the lies of the serpent reached out to grab that which had not been given. They seized upon that forbidden fruit which looked good to their eyes and seemed good to eat, seemed to be desirous to make one wise. And in their transgression, a rift, a divide, created by the newly wicked heart of man divided our race from our creator.
But in the fall, God, who would not see the crown of his creation destroyed gave a promise spoken as curse upon the ancient foe, “I will put enmity between you Satan and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen 3:15). That is to say, the Virgin shall conceive and her Son will be wounded but he will crush your head. To that promise Adam and Eve clang. The promise of restoration through the seed of woman. The promise was renewed and given again to Abraham and to all the Patriarchs. In hope of the fulfillment of that promise they dwelled as sojourners in a foreign land.
Through Moses, on Sinai’s height the promise was given again, and it carried the people of Israel through the wilderness and into the Holy Land, where they dwelled in hope of its fulfillment. It was the promise that the prophets prophesied about and we heard just weeks ago how deeply Isaiah, and all the prophets longed to see it. The hope of man from the fall, the longing of the patriarchs, the desire of the prophets, that which they could only see in faith and hope, to this John has been called to testify. “He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light” (Jn 1:7-8). John was the greatest among those born of women not because of his wealth, not because of his power or strength of arms, but because he was the first to be given to see and recognize the salvation of God in Christ Jesus, the fulfillment of the all that the people of God had hoped for, and longed for, since time immemorial.
I am not the Christ” (Jn 1:20) he says, but “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (Jn 1:23). John is blessed because he knows who he is, and knows whose business he is about, and he knows him to whom he points. “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (Jn 1:26-27). The light is coming into the world and has come already, he stands in your midst. His Advent has arrived. His power omnipotent, his wisdom omniscient, his righteousness perfect. I am not worthy even to touch his feat, to serve him as the most servile of slaves.
And yet he has come, he stands among us as our brother to lift us up. The King who brings the Kingdom of God has crossed that uncrossable chasm which divides God from man and in his Advent he comes to conquer. That foot, that blessed and holy heel, which will be bruised, that I am not worthy to touch treads closer to the serpents head. Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.
All you who are oppressed and heavy laden, all who feel the serpents bite and venom, rejoice at his Advent. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Him, because the Lord has anointed Him” before the very foundation of the World the Father has called him to this task and he gladly does it. The serpents bite he gladly takes. He comes “to bring good news to the poor” for a treasure has been set aside for them in heaven, “to bind up the brokenhearted” because death will be no more. He comes “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound” because he brings an end to the slavery of sin and bursts open the gates harrowing hell. He comes “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God” because the serpent is judged already and grace given to all who believe upon his name. The only name under heaven given that men might be saved.
Those who receive him will be clothed in the ash of sin no more, he will baptize them, anointing them, with the Holy Spirit and cover them with his blood he covers them and gives them a crown “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit.” Those who in themselves were dying in their iniquities, perishing like the grass and withering like the flower will be engrafted and planted and rooted in him who is the vine of life so that they “may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that God may be glorified in them.” Indeed “They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations,” yes the city of God which has been ruined by the sins of many generations will be restored and built again, made up of the stones of Holy people made his by his shed blood with him as the corner stone. He brings the final, and perfect, “everlasting covenant” between God and man.
For this, John, because he is the voice crying out in the wilderness prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, Jesus says he is the greatest of all men to be born of women. But Jesus also says “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than John” (Lk 7:28). How can this be? John saw the coming of Christ, which all the patriarchs and prophets had hoped for, but he only saw the final victory of Christ over the serpent by faith in the promise. Beheaded by Herod, John did not live to see the cross, and while he certainly participates fully in Christ’s victory now by his faith in the promise, you are blessed in this even beyond the blessing given to John. John knew that Christ would baptize by the Holy Spirit, but you have been baptized by the Holy Spirit and have seen his cross and resurrection and ascension. You enjoy and mystical and sweet communion with God which John wished and longed for in his life and which surpasses even that of our first parents in the garden. For you have become a temple of the living God in whom he dwells graciously. You too have been born of woman, but you have also been born again, begotten from above in Baptism and are even now a child of the heavenly Father. For you Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, when he says, they will be an offspring the Lord has blessed.
All that Christ came to do he has done for you, and does to you this day. Today is the day of the Lord’s salvation and it is your salvation. And so this Third Sunday of Advent let us sing with Isaiah’s prophecy “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord;
my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Is 61:10). And let us hear the admonition of Paul and his blessing “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess 5:16-24). Amen!
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