We are here instructed in the contrast between St. John the Baptist and Jesus the Christ. Which is really also the contrast between Advent and Christmas, between the Old Testament and the New, between the preparation for and the realization of God’s promises. At the same time, we are also taught the New Creation that comes about in Christ, and the new identity of all who live in Him.
Thus, St. John is not the Christ, and yet, his office and his role are to make ready the way of the Lord Jesus Christ. And by the Word and Spirit of God, he understands his place and the purpose of his life, to which he has been called and appointed by the Father in heaven.
What about you? Are you also content and confident to serve in the place and for the purpose that God has given to you? Or do you aspire to a different sort of “greatness,” by some other criteria?
That different measure of greatness is the crux of the problem for those who question St. John. They have expectations of and for the Christ, but they do not know Him. They neither know nor understand His Way, nor His servants, nor His Sacraments, nor His great Salvation.
St. John himself had a similar misunderstanding at one point, when the Lord Jesus approached him and presented Himself to be baptized by John. For the Christ does not come to baptize with the Spirit and with fire until He has first of all been baptized for repentance and forgiveness of sins. Not for any sins of His own, to be sure, but for the redemption of His people through His Blood.
St. John’s preaching and Baptism of repentance are then continued in the Ministry of Christ and His Apostles. And this Ministry of Word and Sacrament avails for the forgiveness of sins and for righteousness before God, because Christ Jesus has first of all entered the wilderness on the far side of the Jordan and submitted to this Baptism and repentance, in order to suffer and die for all.
He has thus redeemed you from sin and death by taking up the Cross in the waters of His Baptism, by taking your place in the water, under the Cross, and dying and rising on your behalf. So does He now lead you through the wilderness and bring you through the waters of the Jordan River — that is, through the waters of your Holy Baptism — into the Promised Land in and with Himself.
And so do you now live as a citizen of the Kingdom of God within the Body of Christ Jesus. You live and abide within the walls of the true Jerusalem, which is the Holy Christian Church, strong and steady on the foundation of the Apostles, and guarded by the Word and Spirit of the Lord.
Thus, when St. John the Baptist calls you to repent — as the Season of Advent has called you to repent over this past month, and as your pastor calls you to repent on this day and week after week all year long — the Lord is calling you to find your way in Christ Jesus, who comes to redeem you by His Cross. He calls you to be crucified and die to yourself, in order to rise and live with Him; and so to serve Him in your own proper calling and station in life to the glory of His Holy Name.
To repent of your sins, and to look to the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, is to recognize and confess who and what you are, and who you are not. Of yourself, you are a child of death; there is no true or lasting life in you, far less any genuine greatness or glory. Your native pride is presumptuous and arrogant, and it shall perish along with you and all of your possessions. So must you die.
But you are not your own; neither are you lost or forsaken. The Lord has called you by His own Name, to be His very own — a member of the Bride of Christ and a child of the Father in heaven. He not only puts you to death by His preaching of repentance, He also raises you to newness of life by His Word of Absolution. His Baptism not only crucifies and buries you, but also gives you the new birth of the Holy Spirit. Thus are you a new man or woman with a new identity in Christ.
And in fact, that is your true identity, your true worth and value, and your true life forevermore. Not that you are the Christ, but you do belong to Him, and He to you. You are His Christian.
You need not pretend (to yourself or anyone else) to be someone or something you are not. For who you are by the grace of God in Christ is pleasing to your God and Father in heaven. He calls you simply to be and to serve in the place where He has stationed you, wherein you point not to yourself and your accomplishments, but to the Christ, to His Word, and to His works of love. And for that high and holy purpose, the Lord has provided you with everything you need to perform it.
So then do you live by faith in the Gospel, by which you are daily and richly forgiven all your sins, and by which you stand forever righteous before the true and only God. Trust the Word that He has spoken to you, the Name by which He has called you, and rejoice that you belong to Him at all times and in all places. That is sure and certain, now and forever, because it does not depend on any merit or worthiness of yours, but rests solely and securely upon Christ, crucified and risen, your Savior and Redeemer, who lives and reigns forever and sustains you unto life everlasting.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.