Pastor Walther / John 1:6-8, 19-28 / December 17, 2017 / Christmas Want vs. Christmas Need / Advent 3
As more and more people buy their Christmas gifts online, and buy their everyday shopping online too, delivery companies have been able to streamline the process of getting the package from point A to point Z with all the little points in between. What I love about delivery companies now is that you can go online and see the progress and see where in the world your little Christmas gift is. In fact, you can even personalize the delivery updates to come right to your phone. It’s awesome that they give you the list of steps that need to happen in order for that shipment to get to the UPS store or to your front door step. This process of updates is so popular that even food companies like Dominoes Pizza will give you updates to let you know what’s going on with your pizza!
Did you hear about the man who recently didn’t receive his package from UPS? After their father died, this Canadian man went to his local UPS store to pick up a package he was expecting from his sister containing his share of the inheritance in the form of a bank draft, but it never came. 846 thousand dollars he was expecting to come as his share of the inheritance. UPS looked at the checkpoints but the trail went cold. This Canadian man had maxed out all of his credit cards, was in deep debt, and he needed this money to survive. He needed this UPS package. The song goes, “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth.” All this man wanted was the ticket to his nearly 1 million dollar inheritance.
How could that be? How could there be a mistake? How could UPS make a mistake? It seems like such perfect and transparent process. It’s practically automated now. But who knows? Maybe it was a tired UPS worker, tired with the busy holiday season and it got lost. It could be anything. UPS even admitted that it isn’t a perfect system, of course there are going to be mistakes. But because of that mistake, this man lost his inheritance. He was in debt. But what did he get instead? UPS felt bad and paid for the $32 shipping. I don’t quite think that covers it.
The Jewish leaders were doing kind of the same thing that we do when we look for our delivery. They were looking for the Messiah and they were looking at all the past delivery updates that God had given to the people of Israel. These status updates for the coming Messiah began already when God promised Adam and Eve that someone would come to save them from their sin. With every generation, the people were looking for this savior. With time, people began to forget about what they were to be looking for. So God sent prophets to point people back to God and back to the coming Savior. Yet, by the time of John the Baptist, who we are looking at today, the Jews had unknowingly made a mistake. Well, how could the Jews have made a mistake? Especially when they have people devoted to this kind of stuff! God promised a Messiah, a Savior and they wanted someone to save them!
Now around Christmas time, when we are looking for a gift for a family member or friend, especially the older we get, the two questions we often ask are: what do you want, and what do you need? What the Jews thought they wanted and needed was a king to dispel the Roman empire. They wanted to go back to the golden days of King David and Solomon when they were their own people and they could do what they wanted and not have to pay taxes to a heathen caesar thousands of miles away. But the thing was, God didn’t promise a political and earthly savior. He promised a spiritual savior. Do you think God’s promise to Adam and Eve really was about a king ruling a plot of land in the Mediterranean? How could the Jewish leaders mess it up? It’s because they heard what they wanted to hear. They wanted the perfect Messiah, not some rag tag messiah who would suffer and die. What did these Jewish leaders want for Christmas? Ironically, not Christ!
But aren’t we the same way? Do we look for such a perfect Christmas, having a perfect family gathering without a fight, searching for the perfect gift, being home with the family at exactly Christmas time without missing a flight or getting stuck in bad weather? Do we try so hard to have the perfect Christmas that we miss what was right in front of us all along: the thing that makes it a perfect Christmas? Do we wake up more excited on Christmas Day for the fact that we get to open gifts and see family for one day, rather than waking up excited that God sent his Son for us that we wouldn’t go to Hell for eternity? Do we care more about what we want for Christmas, rather than what we truly need? A lot of people just want the twinkling of Christmas tree lights and the glitter of tinsel. They may want something at Christmas that looks a little religious, but they do not want the Light of the world.
The reality is that we are just like the Canadian man who lost his inheritance check in the mail. This man needed that inheritance check because he was in such bad debt. He was desperate for that inheritance! With humility, we confess our need for Jesus arrival. We confess that we are desperate for the inheritance that he promises because we are in debt to God. God does not treat sin lightly. God does not treat the fact that we put the holiday of Christmas first rather than Christ first. God does not treat lightly the fact that we put our wants first rather than what we truly need. We need saving. We can’t do it on our own. We can’t be good enough for heaven. We can’t pay off God with our good works, even if for some crazy reason, good works counted double at Christmas time. That’s the equivalency of UPS paying that man the $32 for shipping when he needed another $845,968! Just not quite enough! We need that inheritance promise of Jesus Christ.
And so when we hear about John the Baptist baptizing and talking about a coming Messiah, these Jewish leaders sent people to question John. They were coming out to make sure John had the right credentials and to see whether they could approve of what he was doing. Evidently there were also rumors swirling around that he was the prophesied Messiah, so they wanted to go out and find out for themselves. But yet again, they didn’t find what they were looking for. What they wanted wasn’t there. If John wasn’t the savior, the Jews then moved down the line to find out whether he was either Elijah or another prophet, whom they associated with the coming age of the Christ. Yet again, what they wanted was different from what they needed. John explained that he was not any of their expected prophetic figures. Their wrong preconceptions about the Savior and the Savior’s forerunner blinded them to such an extent that when they had the real forerunner and the real Savior before their very eyes they failed to recognize them.
He explained, however, that his ministry was described in the Old Testament. He was the voice preparing people for Jesus, the savior that we all needed. In fact he quotes Isaiah here and says that his preparation was like making a path straight in the desert. The roads back then, especially in the desert, were really more like footpaths. They were rough, sometimes blocked by rock or debris if they were in the mountains. Robbers usually hid in caves and would pounce on people, often leaving them for dead. So, whenever a king would come to visit, the roads needed to be prepared and made safe for travel. John wasn’t literally preparing a road, but he was speaking spiritually. This preparation begins with repentance: recognizing our sin and feeling sorry for that sin because our sin is the reason why we deserve to go to hell. Sin brings on death.
But our preparation doesn’t end with repentance. Did you know that the gospel of John repeats the verb believe, some 100 times, more than any other book of the Bible? Once in a while, I’ll see some Christmas decorations, especially I seem to see them in front of vintage boutique stores that have the word “BELIEVE” in big letters on some reclaimed and painted wood. I don’t mean to diss you if you have it, because they actually look pretty cool. Anyway, I can tell that believe is an imperative, a command, but to believe in what? The spirit of Christmas? In Santa Clause? In family? In good health? In world peace? You know as well as I do that to believe in things like that are foolish because those things either don’t exist or they fail us every year at Christmas.
When we look at verse 7, it says, “ He [that is John] came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.” This wasn’t some general idea of believing at Christmas, but believing in something particular. It was believing in God’s promises, believing in the word, believing in the light that John proclaimed and believing that this light, which is Christ, was here to bring us back to God. No other means of coming to God exists. Believe in Christ and what he has done, and live.
That’s why John the baptist was called by God to do this job. He was sharing with people, not what they wanted but what they needed, and what they needed was coming. Finally, Jesus was coming to take away the sins of the world. Finally, Christ was bringing to us the inheritance we lost because of our sin. And, John the baptist was able to share with people the amazing news that this was becoming reality. Christ was bringing to us the perfect Christmas. He was the fulfillment of God’s promise that was spelled out time and time again throughout history.
It is as if God sees the checkpoints like looking at the UPS delivery steps. Every step of the way, God was there guiding everything to bring us Jesus. Every step of the way, God was there guiding everything, to bring us salvation. Your inheritance was not lost in the mail, but it was bought and paid for by Christ. God gives to us not what we want the most, but what we need the most.
As we approach Christmas, and as we see our families and friends, and as we look to exchange gifts, are we giving to those people the things that they wanted or the one thing that they truly need? I pray that this Christmas, we find joy in the news of John the baptist, proclaiming that Jesus is here! I pray that we take that same message that we all so desperately need and share that with the people around us. Amen.