The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

by The Rev. Mark Buetow
St. Luke 1:57-80

Today we celebrate the Nativity, the birth, of St. John the Baptist. Throughout the year, the Church has marked dates upon which we remember the work of the Lord through particular people: Apostles and Prophets and pastors and missionaries and many other holy men and women of God through whom the Lord has proclaimed His saving Gospel and shown us His gracious good works. So today we remember and give thanks for the birth of St. John the Baptist.

St. John the Baptist was a unique man. He is rightly called the last of the Old Testament prophets. He is the last one to preach the Gospel before the Savior came. John is also the first of the New Testament preachers. His calling was to point out Christ for the world and to identify, for the people, the man who is God in the Flesh, Jesus, the Son of God, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Some people would like to remember John simply because of the strange circumstances surrounding his birth: the angel's announcing his coming to his father, Zechariah, and striking him unable to speak until his birth; the birth of John to Elisabeth, who was well beyond her childbearing years. Some think John should be remembered for the kind of life he lived: a harsh and strange life dressed in camel's hair, eating locusts and wild honey. Some remember John for his harsh preaching against the self-righteous Pharisees. Many would say that John's death by beheading by King Herod was what made John most famous.

We are going to cast all of these aside today and remember St. John the Baptist for his finger. That's right, his finger. Because of all the things that John the Baptist did, the most important was what he did with his finger: he pointed to Christ. He pointed to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He did this in fulfillment of his father's words: "You, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare His way; to give His people knowledge of salvation, in the forgiveness of their sins," (St. Luke 1:76-77).

John's finger pointed to Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And that is salvation for you and I, who are also finger-pointers. But when you and I "point the finger" we don't point to Jesus. When you and I point fingers we are pointing them at each other. From the highest levels of scandal in world government and big corporations to kids running around outdoors and getting into trouble, "finger-pointing" is our thing.

Our finger-pointing even does double duty! When we point the finger at someone to blame them, we are making them the one responsible for whatever problems there are, while at the same time trying to escape our own responsibility and blame! Adam, when he was caught in sin pointed his finger at Eve, and even at God Himself. "The woman YOU gave me made me eat the fruit," (Gen. 3:12). The woman pointed her finger at the serpent. It was his fault. And ever since that day, we have loved ourselves rather than our neighbor by using our fingers to identify the people around us who ought to get in trouble so that we don't.

Oh yes, the way in which we love to point the finger, lay the blame, and try to save ourselves is the way of people in this fallen world. And it's a damnable way. For such finger-pointing leads to death and hell. After all, what use does God have for those who are only worried about themselves and would abandon their neighbor the instant they can save their own skins?

For a world full of such finger-pointing people comes the finger of John the Baptist, pointing not to the sins of others but to the Lamb of God. "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world," (St. John 1:29). Zechariah knew that, beginning with John, the days of salvation were about to be accomplished. By the Holy Spirit, John's dad prophesied of his son's place in the world: to be the guy who points us all to the Savior, to Jesus, to the Lamb who takes away all our sins.

John came into this world for this purpose: to point to Christ. To call God's people away from their sins in repentance and to faith in the One to whom he pointed. John baptized in the Jordan River for the forgiveness of sins and to bring sinners to faith in Christ, the Son of God. John wasn't there to bring attention to himself but to Christ. His finger was aimed always at Jesus: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!"

It was this Jesus to whom all fingers ultimately point. Not only the fingers of faithful preachers, but also the fingers of all the blame in the world, for Jesus took upon Himself our sins. It was to Jesus that the Jewish religious leaders pointed as the One who was worthy of death. It was to Jesus that the finger of Pontius Pilate pointed when he announced, "Behold the man!" (St. John 19:5). It was to the crucified Jesus that the fingers of His enemies and those who mocked Him pointed. It was upon Jesus that the Finger of God's judgment came forth and punished Him for the sins of the world. And it was in the wounds of Jesus that the fingers of His disciples rested when He showed that He was indeed risen from the dead!

Ah, brothers and sisters in Christ, how worthless and silly all of OUR finger pointing seems in comparison with the Lamb of God who was pure and innocent and yet suffered for our sins and conquered death!

Dear Christians, follow the finger of John the Baptist! See to Whom it points! And follow the finger of your pastor to see where it points! For I, too am called to point my finger. But, like John, my finger isn't here to point out your sins for condemnation or to point you to the sins of others. My finger is to point where John's pointed: to the Lamb of God.

Of course, we know that Jesus has been raised from the dead and has ascended into heaven. Yet my finger does not point up into the sky! No, my calling is to point you to Christ where He has promised to be found. My finger doesn't point here (the heart) or out there (the world) to tell you where to find Christ. No, follow my finger. It points you to the Font, where this salvation is delivered. It points you to the Altar where Christ's own Body and Blood are given. It points you to the Scriptures, which alone are the final authority for all of our faith and life. It even points you to my lips which speak His forgiveness of sins into your ears.

In pointing to these gifts, brothers and sisters, I am pointing you away from yourselves and your finger-pointing at others, to Christ and His life and salvation for you.

Dear Christians, repent of your own finger-pointing! Receive the forgiveness from such finger-pointing that Jesus gives, to Whom all things point. And learn, then, to use your fingers for good and not for evil! Use them for pointing others to Christ, not for pointing out their sins. Husbands and wives, instead of pointing out what's wrong with each other, point one another to your rings and vows and the grace of God which has bound you together. Parents—like Hilary today for Emma—as your kids grow, point them to the Font and Altar as the sure and certain means of knowing that God loves them in Christ. All of you: whether you're on the playground, or at work, or with friends or family – learn to stop pointing out the sins of others, whether to blame them, or excuse yourself, or to make others laugh at them! Rather, point one another to Christ and to His means of grace and to His forgiveness. Let it be said of you, "Gee, she never points fingers!" What a blessing THAT would be wouldn't it? And of course, when the sinful urge to point your finger at someone overcomes you, then run back here and I will point you to Christ and the gifts that deliver His sin-covering Blood.

Today we remember the Nativity, the birth of St. John the Baptist – not for his sake, but for yours – to recall that he was the one born into this world to identify the Christ for us. John the Baptist points to Jesus. And by pointing to Jesus, John has identified for us the one Source of all of our hope and comfort and peace and life and joy. John brings God's people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of our sins. That is salvation: the forgiveness of sins.

John was born to point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Let John and every preacher do this faithfully. Then you will always be directed to the Savior who takes away your sins. To the Altar. To the Font. To the Scriptures. To the preaching and absolving. There is Christ, just as John has shown us.

Praise to be God for the birth of St. John the Baptist! Praise God for St. John's finger, for it points us to our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lamb of God who has taken away our sins. Happy Nativity of St. John the Baptist Day! Amen.

The Rev. Mark Buetow is the pastor of Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church in Du Quoin, Illinois, and is also the chief editor of Higher Things Reflections.

Created: July 2nd, 2007