Among those born of women, there is no one greater than St. John the Baptist, conceived and born by the grace of God to the elderly priest, St. Zacharias, and his barren old wife, St. Elizabeth. He is greater, indeed, than even the Patriarchs and Prophets of old, because he is the one who goes before the face of the Lord Himself to prepare His Way, to usher in the Christ and point to Him.
It is remarkably true that the one who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than St. John on earth — though, to be sure, St. John himself belongs to the Kingdom of Heaven, and he is not the least of all the saints who live and abide in the presence of God, resting in peace under the Lord’s Altar. But it is precisely to the point at hand that you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven by your natural birth, but only by the new birth of water with the Word and Spirit of the Lord.
So it is that, already, St. John’s miraculous conception and birth signify and point ahead to the Baptism of repentance that he will preach and administer in the Name of the Lord. It is actually a case of both death and life, because that Baptism puts you to death for your sins and raises you to newness of life through the forgiveness of your sins, anticipating the Cross and Resurrection of the Christ. In and out of death, it gives you a new birth, as St. John was conceived and born from St. Elizabeth’s dead and empty womb, when her husband was also old, his body as good as dead.
If you are not conceived and born again to newness of life through the death and resurrection of Holy Baptism, then you simply grow old and waste away and die forever. There would be no life in you, and you would bare no fruit. You would wither and fade like the grass and its flower.
The life that you have received from your father and mother on earth is an inheritance of sin and a legacy of death, from which neither they nor you could ever hope to escape. You cannot heal or save yourself, much less live forever. You are mortal. You are dust, and to the dust you return.
You and all people die, because you and all people sin. From Adam & Eve down to your own Mom and Dad, every last one of your parents — and you, no less, as their child and heir — have turned away from the true and living God to serve a legion of dead idols, to worship a pantheon of false gods. You have pursued the forbidden fruits of your covetous lust, and you have misused God’s own gifts and good creation under the pretense of piety, but without prayer or thanksgiving.
You have disobeyed and disregarded His Voice in the wilderness, His Word of Truth — because it calls you to account and to repentance, and it threatens to put you and your lifestyle to death. You have not trusted the Lord, but have invested yourself and put your trust in that which is not God and cannot save you. You have feared the opinions of the world and the loss of your own life more than you fear the one true God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth. You have loved yourself above all else, and you have loved this world and the things of this world more than God.
Ironically, and tragically, in fleeing from the Voice of God in the hopes of preserving your life, you have departed from the Author and Giver of Life and plunged yourself headlong into the grave. In avoiding the death of repentance, you commit yourself to the everlasting death of damnation. It is precisely for that reason that you are dying. From the moment you were conceived, and from the day that you were born, you have been dying on account of your sinful unbelief and idolatry.
How, then, shall the Lord your God regard you and deal with you?
Should God think of you and treat you in the way that you regard and deal with the people who have hurt you or disappointed you? Should He seek revenge and punish you for all of your sins? He would certainly be within His rights to do so, as the judgment of His Law thunders against you. What plea bargain or self defense could you possibly offer to appease His righteous wrath?
And yet, His Law is not His last or final Word concerning you. He calls you to repentance, not to be done with you, but to raise you from death and restore you to life. He does not aim to destroy you; He disciplines you in love, as a father disciplines his children. Even His punishments in this body and life are not punitive but remedial, that you might learn to fear Him rightly as your God and to flee from your deadly sins and the deceptive temptations of the devil.
With divine grace and utter charity, the Lord regards you with compassion, and He deals with you in love. He remembers His promises, the Oath He swore to Abraham and to his Seed forever, the Covenant freely given and perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son. He remembers you in mercy. And for His Name’s sake, He responds to your sins with His forgiveness and salvation.
He’s not out to get you, nor to get something from you. The truth is that He needs nothing from you — He does not need anything at all, for all things are from Him and depend on Him, who was, and is, and is to come. But in Love — in the Love of the Father for His Son in the Holy Spirit — the Lord desires your salvation, to give you Life with Himself forever and ever.
So has He given His Word and promise of the Gospel from the very start, even following hard on the heals of the fall into sin. And whereas you and all your parents and your children have been unfaithful to Him and to His Word, yet He is and remains ever faithful to His Word and promises. He remembers His oath, His covenant, His promises, and He remembers you in mercy; which is to say that He takes the initiative, He moves, and He acts to save you from sin, death, and hell.
In order to do so, He has been conceived and born of the Woman, St. Mary of Nazareth, the young virgin relative of St. Elizabeth. The Son of God has been conceived and born under the Law, in order to rescue and redeem you from the curse of the Law and the consequences of all your sins.
The gracious and miraculous conception and birth of St. John the Baptist anticipate and declare the coming of the Christ Himself in human flesh and blood. Indeed, his whole life points to the Lord Jesus Christ. That is why his own father sings first of all about the unborn Son of St. Mary!
Already in the womb of His Mother Mary (still in her first trimester), true God has become true Man, the very Word of God has become Flesh, in order to bring about a New Creation for you and all — and to make of you a brand new creature by the New Birth of His Cross and Resurrection.
He comes in the flesh and, behold, He makes all things new in His own crucified and risen Body. By His Cross He has atoned for all of your sins, and in His Resurrection from the dead He has justified you and reconciled you to God the Father. Indeed, He has become your Righteousness and Holiness, even as He is your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.
All of this He has already accomplished for you. It is a done deal in the Body of Christ. It is finished! But, for all of that, you could not lay hold of the Gospel or believe the promises of God in Christ, not by any reason, emotion, ingenuity, or effort of your own. No more than you could reconcile yourself to God in the first place. You could not resolve or remedy your sinful unbelief.
So the Lord in His mercy sends His messengers before His face, to preach His Word to you, and to bring about the New Creation in your heart and mind, in your body and life, by the preaching of this foolish Word of the Cross, which is the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins.
The preaching of His Law exposes your sins and condemns you. It crucifies you and puts you to death. But this it does, not to crush you completely, nor to destroy you forever, but that you might be raised from death to life with God in Christ; that you might be born again through the Gospel.
It is indeed the preaching of His Gospel that comforts you, because it forgives your sins and brings you to life. It recreates you out of the nothingness of your futile, mortal life, to be a New Man or a New Woman, a newborn child of God in Christ Jesus. For His Word of the Gospel gives you a new birth — as in Holy Baptism, so also in Holy Absolution — by the labor of the Cross and the delivery of the Resurrection. Out of death there emerges Life. Out of darkness there shines Light.
His Gospel also names you with a new Name — as in Holy Baptism, so in Holy Absolution. Not the name of death and decay that you received from your mortal father and mother, but the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And with His Name, you have received and now share in His Sonship. You are anointed by the Spirit of His Father, and you live with Him in body and soul, now and forever. Death has no dominion over you, because it has no power over Christ in whom you live.
So it is that you are no longer mute, unable to speak, but your lips and your mouth and your throat have been opened and set free to praise the Lord your God, to call upon His Name in prayer and thanksgiving, and to confess His Word, which is most certainly true. By His Voice you have been given a voice. And really, by the prayer and confession of His Word, your whole body and life are at liberty to praise His holy Name in faith and love. For by the new birth of water with His Word and Holy Spirit, you now live and abide with Christ Jesus in the Kingdom of His God and Father.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.