Concerning himself, John does not want to speak. He is the voice who cries out about Christ the Lord. So when he speaks, he would speak only of Him.
When pressed for an answer, John chiefly confesses who and what he is not. In particular, he is adamantly not the Christ; nor is he worthy to assume that office and role. For he is certainly not the Redeemer of Israel; nor would his whole body and life be adequate or able to redeem anyone from sin and death. Rather, he too relies upon the Christ to whom he points with his preaching.
Nor is he Elijah. Although, it is true that he comes in the spirit and the power of Elijah, as the Lord spoke by the Angel Gabriel, concerning St. John, at the annunciation of his conception and birth.
He will turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God, by his preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins in the One who comes after Him. For that is St. John’s special office and role as the Forerunner, who goes before the face of the Lord to prepare His Way.
In this respect, though he is not that Prophet, like Moses, who would actually be the Word of the Lord in human flesh — for that Prophet is none other than Jesus the Christ — yet, St. John is something uniquely more than any other Prophet, because he ushers in that very Word-made-Flesh in person.
Although he is not the true Light, which, coming into the world, enlightens every man, St. John is a witness to the Light, so that, by his testimony, all might come to know and believe in the Light.
That is why he baptizes — in the wilderness on the far side of the Jordan — in order that you might know, through the waters of Baptism, the One whom you otherwise do not know.
This is the Way of the Lord that St. John prepares: namely, through the waters of the Jordan River, out of the wilderness, into the Land that God has promised.
The true Redeemer, Jesus the Christ, passes through those waters on His Way to the sacrifice of His Cross in Jerusalem. And it is by His Cross that He accomplishes — for you and for all — the repentance that St. John preaches. So it is, that, by His death, you are turned back to God in faith, and you are turned to one another in love.
For it is by His sacrificial death that your sins are atoned for — by the Blood of God Himself — and your iniquities are all forgiven (they are remembered no more); and God’s righteous wrath and anger are spent (upon His Son in your stead) and are thereby removed from you.
This Baptism with water now saves you by this forgiveness of the Cross of Christ. And it is by this forgiveness of your sins that you know the Lord your God rightly, and you are reconciled to Him, and you are returned to Him: to God the Father, by the Spirit, through Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son.
It is in your Baptism that the Lord God makes His Name known to you; not as your adversary or an enemy, but as your own dear Father in Christ Jesus. So that, now, you call upon the Name of the Lord your God, and you lay hold of Him by faith in His Word and promises.
And though you are not worthy of the least of all His grace and mercy toward you, yet, by virtue of your Baptism into Christ, you are fed from His hand here at His lavish Table. And in this great Feast, the wilderness has become an oasis of peace, and this house a holy and beautiful Temple.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A sword in the hat is better than a foot in your mouth. All the better if it is that double-bladed sword that slices and dices between bone and marrow. But I have always liked to sort things out by thinking out loud with friends and colleagues. And since my opportunities to do so are limited, I figure I can multiply my thinking and sorting here.
Married 31 years, my wife and I have had ten children born to us (six boys, four girls); we have another son and daughter by marriage (and will soon have another daughter by marriage), a son who went ahead of us to heaven from the womb, six grandchildren and counting. I was ordained in 1996, and have been the pastor of Emmaus since then. I have a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2003), and an S.T.M. from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana