That bony finger of John the Baptist keeps poking it’s way into our Christmas celebration, or at least that is the way it seems. There he is in the painting pointing to Christ the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The picture doesn’t fit our Christmas celebration either. We want the manger, not the cross. Too bad…… Here’s Luther.
This, then, is the preparation of Christ’s way and John’s proper office. He is to humble all the world, and proclaim that they are all sinners – lost, damned, poor, miserable, pitiable people; that there is no life, work, or rank however holy, beautiful and good it may appear, but is damnable unless Christ our God dwell therein, unless he work, walk, live, be and do everything through faith in him; in short, that they all need Christ and should anxiously strive to share his grace.
Behold, where this is practiced, namely, that all man’s work and life is as nothing, there you have the true crying of John in the wilderness and the pure and clear truth of Christianity, as St. Paul shows, Rom. 3, 23: “All have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” This is truly to humiliate man, to cut out and annihilate his presumption. Aye, this is indeed to prepare the way of the Lord, to give room and to make way.
Now here are found two kinds of people: some believe the crying of John and confess it to be what he says. These are the people to whom the Lord comes, in them his way is prepared and made even, as St. Peter says in 1 Pet. 5, 5: “God giveth grace to the humble”; and the Lord himself says in Luke 18,14: “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” You must here diligently learn, and understand spiritually what the way of the Lord is, how it is prepared, and what prevents him from finding room in us. The way of the Lord, as you have heard, is that he does all things within you, so that all our works are not ours but his, which comes by faith.
This, however, is not possible if you desire worthily to prepare yourself by praying, fasting, self-mortification, and your own works, as is now generally and foolishly taught during the time of Advent. A spiritual preparation is meant, consisting in a thoroughgoing knowledge and confession of your being unfit, a sinner, poor, damned, and miserable, with all the works you may perform. The more a heart is thus minded, the better it prepares the way of the Lord, although meanwhile possibly drinking fine wines, walking on roses, and not praying a word.