The great figure of Advent is John the Baptist. We think of him as that harsh, say-it-like-it-is prophet who ate insects. But what he preached was repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Which he conveyed by baptism.
From Rev. James Douthwaite, St. Athanasius Lutheran Church: Advent 2 Sermon:
Here’s what often gets overlooked or unsaid (it seems to me) about John, even though it is the most obvious fact about him: he baptized! Even though that’s in the name most people know him by – John the Baptist or John the baptizer – how often do we neglect to consider how much he loved to baptize. And that he wanted to baptize everyone. John, you see, had this incredible gift from God – a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins – and he wanted to give it to everyone.
That’s why he did what he did. That’s why he preached repentance. That’s why he called out those who would not repent or be baptized, yes, using some pretty strong language. Even when King Herod put him in prison, he wouldn’t stop preaching to Herod (Mark 6) – not just to convince Herod that he was wrong and that he, John, was right – but that Herod too might repent and receive this gift from God. Forgiveness. He wanted to give this gift to everyone, even though not all would have it. . . .
So hordes of people went out to him, to receive this gift. John preached it and how much the people needed it, and his preaching resonated with the people because they knew, from the Law that is written on all hearts (Romans 2:15) that they – that we – are sinners. I really don’t think that’s a news flash to most people. People know they do wrong things. Most people have regrets. It’s why so many keep making New Year’s resolutions every year. Preaching – John’s and the Church’s still today – teaches us the depth and breadth of our sin and how serious it is, far more than we know! But the real question is this: not whether or not you are a sinner, but what are you going to do about it?
There are a few options. Two of the most popular are: (1.) try to fix yourself – do better, try harder, and come up with more effective ways of doing so; or (2.) deny it – cover it up or make yourself feel better by comparing yourself to others and convincing yourself you’re not so bad. Even Christians do those things. You’ve done those things. But they don’t work. Fixing yourself is like the little boy trying to fix the leaks in the dam by putting his finger into the hole, but then another hole springs up, and another and another. That’s the way of sin with us – just when you think you’ve got one under control, more break out, and you don’t have enough fingers and toes for them all. Not even close! And denying it – that might make you feel better for a while, but that’s like filing an extension on your income tax. Sooner or later that bill’s going to come due.But here’s what John said: let God deal with it. Now at first, that sounds a bit frightening, like pleading guilty in court and then comes the sentencing. But it’s different, John said. For here is a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Here God deals with your sins by taking them away, forgiving them. And that’s the solution that works no matter who you are, what you’ve done, or when you’ve lived. What you can’t do and could never do, God is coming to do for you. He promised. He promised this from the beginning, from the very first sin, and now the time has come for it to be accomplished! That’s what John also said: He’s coming – now! For after me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
And so John came then and comes now, not just to convict you of your sin, but to point you to the One who deals with your sins. Reminding us in these days before Christmas that the baby in the manger whose birth we are about to celebrate came to be your sin-bearer. The mightier One made weak and the holy One made sinful, to join you who are weak and sinful and raise you to His life. To give you what you need. To give you His Spirit and join you to Himself, to be with you where you are, and that where He is you may be also – from the cross, to the grave, to the resurrection, to the ascension. That you die with Him and rise with Him and ascend with Him to live in His kingdom in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness forever. That’s what filled John with joy – that One and His gift. And so John points you to Him that you be filled with that same joy.