The coming of Christ, the Son of God, is most wonderful and terrible.
He comes as Light in the darkness to lead you out of Egypt by His uplifted arms; to save you from the bitter slavery of sin and death; to bring you into the promised land.
But how shall you receive Him?
You cannot. Your sin that cuts you off and separates you from God, prevents you from receiving Him and His salvation in faith. Indeed, not only that, but for your sin you deserve condemnation from the Lord who comes, and punishment and death. You are sinful and unclean, unrighteous and unholy. Thus, you cannot abide nor survive in His presence, nor can you stand in His judgment.
Still, for all of that, it is with tender mercy and divine compassion that He comes. It is by and with grace that He takes every initiative in coming to you with life and light and love.
So it is that, in order to prepare you for His coming, the Lord raises up and calls and sends a messenger before His face — a preacher — to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins. In sending such a man to preach His Word, He sends one who is like Himself; for the Lord Jesus Christ is the very Word of God who has become flesh; He has become true Man (for us men and our salvation).
Before the Lord’s own miraculous conception and birth, you see the grace, mercy and peace of God already revealed in the way that St. John the Baptist is conceived and born and named: not by the reason or strength of his old man and his barren mother — he is the gift of God.
St. John’s entire life, from even before his conception, and even while yet in the womb, is bound up with and a proclamation of the coming of Christ. So, too, especially, his preaching and his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. It’s all about Jesus; it’s all pointing to Him.
It is only by such preaching of the Word that you are prepared for Christ Jesus. It is only by such preaching that you or anyone can receive Him and respond to Him in faith, unto life.
Praise God for His preachers, for His messengers who go before the face of the Lord to prepare His way, and to prepare you for Him. You would be lost and gone without them.
But there is still a problem.
You can no more receive or respond to this preaching of the Word than you can or could receive the Word-made-Flesh Himself. Your sin still gets in the way and prevents you. His Law, by whomever it is preached, still condemns you and puts you to death.
You cannot live without Him; but you can’t live with Him in your sin, either.
No, the preaching of the Word of Christ accomplishes His purposes and saves you from sin and death, not by any power or response of yours, but only because Christ Jesus Himself submits to that Word and fulfills it first of all.
Jesus receives and responds to the preaching of St. John the Baptist, and thereby He fulfills all righteousness for you.
Really, it is in this way, in particular, that St. John prepares the Way of the Lord. He preaches the Law to which Christ submits Himself (in order to redeem you and all who were under the Law). St. John preaches the repentance which Christ undergoes by His death and resurrection, in order to open the way of repentance for you. St. John preaches and administers the Baptism of repentance, to which Christ Jesus submits Himself (in faith and love), so that, by the Lord’s own death on your behalf, your Baptism is for you the forgiveness of all your sins and a participation in His Resurrection from the dead.
The preaching of the Word of Christ that is granted to you is a living and active and powerful Word, because it is a Word already fulfilled in Christ.
The preaching of repentance not only puts you to death, but raises you to life. It causes the Light to shine upon you, where previously you walked in darkness. It gives you the new birth of the Holy Spirit, and bestows upon you the Name of God by His grace. It grants you the peace that passes all human understanding and achievement, because it is the Word of Christ who has reconciled you to God.
Thus, the preaching of repentance is the preaching of forgiveness — and it does and gives exactly what it proclaims! — and it calls you and brings you to faith and life through that forgiveness of all your sins.
By this preaching of the Word of Christ, not only are you prepared for His coming, but it is precisely by this way and means that He comes to you in love and visits you with tender mercy and compassion.
He remembers you with this preaching, and He raises you up to feast with Him at His Table, to eat and drink the New Covenant of His Body and Blood. This is a most precious feast (though it may taste like locusts and wild honey); it sustains you in the desert of this world unto life in the promised land forever. So do you continue to live and grow and become strong, by grace through faith in this Word of Christ.
It is this peaching of the Word of Christ which has opened your ears and your heart to receive Him, and has released you from all your sins; which also now opens your lips to show forth His praise, and looses your tongue to confess His holy Name, that His great mercy may be displayed in you.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.