The Third Sunday in Advent
December 13, 2020
SERVICE OF THE WORD
This service offers the congregation a form of worship that focuses on the proclamation of God’s Word. Believers respond to this divine gift with prayer, praise, and thanksgiving. The service begins on page 38 in the front of the hymnal.
M: We worship today in the name of our Triune God— God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Confession of Sins
M: We have come into the presence of God, who created us to love and serve Him as His dear children. But we have disobeyed Him and deserve only His wrath and punishment. Therefore, let us confess our sins to Him and plead for His mercy.
C: Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth. In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child. But trusting in Jesus, my Savior, I pray: Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love. Cleanse me from my sin, and take away my guilt.
M: God, our heavenly Father has forgiven all your sins. By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, He has removed your guilt forever. You are His own dear child. May God give you strength to live according to His will.
Prayer and Praise
M: In the peace of forgiveness, let us praise the Lord.
C: Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed are they who take refuge in Him. Your Word, O Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Your faithfulness continues forever. Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed are they who take refuge in Him.
PRAYER OF THE DAY
M: Let us pray.
Hear our prayers, Lord Jesus Christ, and come with the good news of your mighty deliverance. Drive the darkness from our hearts and fill us with your light; for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
FIRST LESSON – Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11
Through the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit Isaiah describes the essence of the work of the Promised Messiah.
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations. (NIV1984)
PSALM OF THE DAY – Psalm 71
In You, O LORD, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
Rescue me and deliver me in Your righteousness;
turn Your ear to me and save me.
Be my Rock of Refuge to which I can always go;
for You are my Rock and my Fortress.
Since my youth, O God, You have taught me,
and to this day I declare Your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, O God,
till I declare Your power to the next generation,
Your might to all who are to come.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen
SECOND LESSON – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Paul tells us how God wants us to live—joyfully, thankfully, prayerfully, and spiritually—as we wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (NIV1984)
VERSE OF THE DAY
Alleluia. I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you. Alleluia. (Matthew 11:10)
C: Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! These words are written that we may believe that Jesus is
the Christ, the Son of God. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
GOSPEL LESSON – John 1:6-8, 19-28 (Sermon Text)
John the Baptist confesses, “I am not the Christ. I am the voice of one calling in the desert. I baptize with water, but among you stands one…the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”
There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No.” Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ” Now some Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (NIV1984)
C: Praise be to you, O Christ!
SERMON Who Are You?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Who are you? That is a question that we all encounter on a fairly regular basis. How we answer that question, however, can vary, can’t it. Our answer to that question will depend on who is asking it. Our answer to that question will depend on the setting in which that question is asked. Our answer to that question will depend on if we are involved in an activity. For example, if I was asked that question back in the days when I was allowed to visit someone in a hospital or in a nursing home, I always answered it by saying, “I’m Pastor Lockman. I’m here to visit with So-and So.” If I were asked that question at the school my grandson attends, I would answer, “I’m Isaac Lockman’s Grandpa.” If I were asked that question while attending Synod convention I would say, “I’m the pastoral delegate from Living Word Lutheran Church in Petaluma, California.”
Who are you? In reality, the question concerning our identity is a question that can come up throughout our entire lifetime. What is true for us was also true for the person who is at the center of our sermon text for today— John the Baptist. In fact, John was asked that question repeatedly here in our text for this morning. For that reason we are going to borrow that question and use it as our sermon theme for today: Who Are You? There are two things we need to do this morning. First, we need to listen very closely as John the Baptist answers that question. Then we need to ponder how we would answer that question.
We’re going to begin by focusing on verses 19-28 of our text. The apostle John sets the stage for us when he says, “Now this was John’s testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.” Because of the way that John the Baptist dressed, because of the message that John the Baptist was proclaiming, and because of what John the Baptist was doing it did not take long for John to get the attention of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. Since these men were the religious leaders of God’s Chosen People it was incumbent upon them to gather some information concerning this “unusual” man living and preaching and baptizing out in the desert.
When these priests and Levites came to John, they asked him a series of questions— all of which revolved around the central question of, “Who are you?” John’s first response to that question was to freely confess, “I am not the Christ.” Even though this delegation from Jerusalem did not ask John directly if he was “the Christ,” John’s answer probably reflects some rumors that were circulating about him. So, John made it abundantly clear by “confessing” that he is not “the Christ.” John understood that he had no right whatsoever to claim the honor that belonged to Jesus and to Jesus alone.
Since John freely “confessed” that he is not “the Christ” this delegation asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” John replied, “I am not.” Since this delegation from Jerusalem consisted of priests and Levites, they were well aware of what the Lord their God had revealed to His people through His servant Malachi, “See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the LORD comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5, 6). Even though we know that this prophecy is speaking about the forerunner of “the Christ” who would indeed possess “the spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17) and even though Jesus would later identify John the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophecy (See Matthew 17:10-13), since the Jewish expectation seems to have been that Elijah— who was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind without experiencing physical death (See 2 Kings 2:11, 12)— would physically return from heaven to serve as the forerunner for “the Christ,” John confesses, “I am not.”
Well, if John is not “the Christ,” and if John is not Elijah returned to earth from heaven, then these priests and Levites wondered, “Are you the Prophet”? This is a reference to what Moses revealed to God’s people in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” (See also Deuteronomy 18:17-19) These words of Moses were clearly understood as a Messianic prophecy thereby making the term “the Prophet” synonymous with the term “the Christ.” (See Acts 3:22, 23; 7:37) Naturally John once again “confessed,” “No.”
Now these priests and Levites were confused. So, they simply asked John, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” This is when John faithfully and humbly replied by quoting the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”
Who are you? As we look back at the ministry and the person of John the Baptist, we can’t help but marvel at the crucial role that the Lord God had graciously given to John. As the angel Gabriel revealed to John’s father, Zechariah, “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous— to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:14-17).
While John’s role in the Kingdom of God here on this earth was indeed a crucial role, and while John’s role in the Kingdom of God here on this earth was by any standard a “great” role, John’s role in the Kingdom of God here on this earth was not a unique role. In fact, your role in God’s Kingdom here on this earth is an even “greater” role than the role of John the Baptist! How can I say that? I can say that because of what Jesus says in Luke 7:28. Do you remember when John the Baptist (who had been put in prison by King Herod) sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”? After answering John’s question by quoting from the book of Isaiah, and after quoting from the book of Malachi to reveal to the people that John the Baptist was indeed the “messenger” who would “prepare the way” for the Messiah, the Christ, Jesus said to God’s people, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he,” that is, “greater” than John the Baptist!
Jesus’ words give us the perfect answer to the question, “Who are you?” You are “greater” than John the Baptist because you have been given an even “greater” role in God’s Kingdom than the role the good Lord gave to John! How is your role even “greater” than the role of John the Baptist? Look at it this way— John the Baptist was still a part of the Old Testament era. He faithfully pointed people to Jesus as, “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 2:29) John faithfully preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). But, John the Baptist was executed by King Herod before Jesus “reached His goal”— suffering and dying on the cross to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). (Pointing to the cross) John the Baptist did not witness the many glorious miracles that Jesus performed. John the Baptist did not sit at Jesus’ feet to hear Him teach God’s Truth with an authority and a clarity that no one had ever seen or heard before. John the Baptist did not witness Jesus’ arrest or His trial. John the Baptist did not witness Jesus’ crucifixion or His resurrection. John the Baptist did not witness Jesus’ ascension into heaven or hear Him give His Great Commission to His Church. You have!
Who are you? One way to answer that question is to go back to the opening verses of our text. While God the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle John to write these words about John the Baptist, we can apply these words to each and every one of God’s New Testament children— including each and every one of you! Look at these verses with that application in mind: “There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.”
Jesus has sent you into the world to be His “witnesses.” (See Acts 1:7-8) You are a “witness” to the entire ministry of this world’s only Savior from sin. You are a “witness” who points people to Jesus, “the true light that gives light to every man.” You are a “witness” who can share with people that Jesus, the Son of God, loves them so very much that He was willing to suffer and die on the cross (Pointing to the cross) to completely pay for all of their sins. You are a “witness” who can share with people that Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead guarantees that one day they too shall physically rise from their grave. You are a “witness” who can share the truth that purely by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, God’s free gift to them is a glorious, perfect, eternal life with Him in His heavenly home. And since today is December 13, let’s not overlook the fact that you are a “witness” to “prepare” your children and your grandchildren, your family and your friends to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.
Who are you? The way in which a person answers that question depends on a variety of factors. Today, however, as we gather together in the name of our Triune God, today as we focus our attention on God’s holy Word to remember the crucial role that God graciously gave to John the Baptist, let’s rejoice in the even ”greater” role that the good Lord has given to us! Who are you? You are a “witness” for Him! (Pointing to the cross)
To God be the glory!
I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. The third day He rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
During this time of uncertainty we still want to bring our thank offerings to our dear Lord and Savior. We ask that you continue to set your offerings aside so that when we are able to come together again in God’s House we will be able to place our offerings on His altar.
PRAYER OF THE CHURCH
O Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, we stand before you with heads bowed in humble awe and reverence. You present to us a most remarkable mystery, for you are both divine and human! Through you, all things were created in heaven and on earth; still, you were willing to come here as our Brother to live in lowliness and to suffer and die for our sins on the cross. All this you did because of your great love for us! How can our mortal lips sing all the praise that is due your holy, saving name?
As members of your kingdom by faith, we long to see the day when you will come again to take us home to heaven. Oh, the glory of that day when we will hear the sound of your voice calling the dead from their graves! How we long to behold your majesty as you invite the faithful to share joys and pleasures that last forever! Until that day arrives, intercede to the Father in our behalf for all our needs. Be ever near to guard and defend us, to cheer and comfort us and to lend us your aid.
Through the Holy Spirit, grant us your grace so that we will always follow in the footsteps of your servant, John the Baptist, and be your faithful witnesses to the people around us. Give us the strength and the dedication, the love and the concern for others that leads us to point people to you— “The true light” who came into this world to give light to everyone.
All of this we ask in the Name of Jesus our Lord, who taught us to pray:
C: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.
M: O Lord God, our heavenly Father, pour out the Holy Spirit on your faithful people. Keep us strong in your grace and truth, protect and comfort us in all temptation, and bestow on us your saving peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.
M: Brothers and sisters, go in peace. Live in harmony with one another. Serve the Lord with gladness.
The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look on you with favor and give you peace.