Advent 3 – St. John 1:6-8, 19-28
A voice cries out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord! Make His paths straight. Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
People go out to hear this voice and the strange message that he proclaims. Soon the word spreads, and even more people go out to hear this one who declares himself to be unworthy to even perform the most meaningless of task on behalf of the one who comes after him.
Pretty soon everyone has heard the message of the voice crying out in the wilderness, not just once, but several times.
And it is not just that they have heard it, but they have heard the full exposition of Isaiah pointing to the coming of the Lord. They have heard the Law directed at tax collectors, and soldiers and at the Pharisees. They have heard every possible illustration one can imagine for preparing the way of the Lord.
And then what happens?
They hear it all again. And the next time they go out to the wilderness to the Jordan River, they hear the same message again. And they wait a month or two, and they go out to hear this voice crying out in the wilderness, and they hear the same message again.
If a comedian told the same jokes over and over again to the same audience over and over again, he would soon be unemployed.
If a dancer did the same dance over and over again to the same audience over and over again, she too would soon be out of work.
If a store kept selling the same clothes and never got in new fashions or styles, and expected people to keep getting the same old stuff; it would soon go out of business.
And yet John the Baptist, the voice of one crying in the wilderness, proclaims a message of Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near to the same crowds of people every single day that he stands out on the banks of the Jordan River.
What do you think happens next?
Well, eventually people get tired of John the Baptist, because his message is the same every day, and because a new flavor comes into their ears: the voice of Jesus.
And Jesus comes and proclaims a message that is similar to John’s: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is here.
Don’t these guys understand marketing? The message needs to be new and fresh and repackaged every couple of months. People will get bored of the same old message being told again and again and again and again.
But there is more.
This is the same message that Peter and Paul and all of the apostles proclaim in the early Church. This is the message that is proclaimed throughout the Middle Ages; it is the message that Luther and the other Reformers proclaim; it is the message Walther proclaims; it is the message that your fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers heard. It is the message that you have heard every Third Sunday in Advent, and every other Sunday of your entire lives.
It is the message that you will hear until Christ comes in glory to judge the living and the dead.
Prepare the way of the Lord; repent; hear Gospel for the forgiveness of your sins.
A voice cries out in the wilderness along the banks of the Jordan River; a voice cries out on The Lutheran Hour; a voice cries out in the pulpit standing before you this morning: prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.
And all God’s people said: Not again.
For like those in the days of Isaiah; like those in the days of John the Baptist, the call to repent is one that sounds old; it sounds as though you have heard it before, for in fact you have.
And if you have heard it before, the question put to you is simple: why do you need to hear it again, and again, and again?
After a year of hearing the call to repent, aren’t you ready for a new message?
After a lifetime of hearing the call to prepare the way of the Lord, aren’t you ready to move on to the next level of Christian living?
After a Sunday of hearing the call to repent, is it too much to ask that next Sunday, the message be a little different?
After all: notes have been taken, hymns have been sung, prayers have been said, offerings have been collected. Have we not all gotten the message? Even in our modern day culture of sound-bites and the power of advertising, could we not all get a little credit for being able to remember a simple message such as repent for more than one Sunday?
And so what happens to those voices crying out in the wilderness? What happens to their message? What do the hearers, who have long heard the message hit their eardrums do?
John the Baptist is killed; so is Jesus; so are the apostles and prophets; so are the Reformers and the founders; so are those who cry out today.
They are killed with the sword; they are killed with the cross; they are killed with guns; they are killed with starvation; they are killed with prison. They are killed and their message is muted for a while.
For that is the power of sin: Satan whispers in your ear that you have heard the message to repent, therefore you do not need to hear it again. You have heard the voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord more than once; why do you need to hear it again?
And so people walk away.
The people abandon Isaiah, for his message to repent is an old one, so why bother?
They walk away from John the Baptist, for his message to prepare the way of the Lord has been told before, and it will be told again.
They walk away from Jesus, for His message of forgiveness is not one that anyone wants to hear right now.
And they walk away from all the rest, because the message has been heard before.
And you to walk away; maybe not with your feet, but with your ears and with your thoughts, for this message has been heard before, not just on the Third Sunday in Advent, but on Christmas and Easter and Pentecost and every other time the Church has gathered to hear the Word and receive the gifts that God has given to His Church.
And so the message is offered once more: repent, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths before Him.
Repent of your not hearing the Word of the Lord proclaimed in your midst. Repent of determining that this message is not for you. For the message of the Church is always to repent, for the world the Church lives in is one of sin and temptation, and so the message must always be repent.
A voice cries out prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight; and so once more, the Church repents. The call to cast aside the sin and brokenness of this world is made once more, and once more the idols and the temptations are cast aside, in anticipation of the Lord’s coming.
For that is the other constant message of the Church: the Lord is coming quickly. We repent of our sins in anticipation that the Lord is soon coming to judge the living and the dead, and to take those who repent and believe in Him to eternal life.
Hear the voice crying out before you today: Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Repent, receive the forgiveness of all of your sins, and be ready for the Lord is coming soon.
It is an old message, one you have heard before and one you will hear again. But it is the message of salvation proclaimed in your ears, so that you might receive eternal life.