Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent 3 Sermon

Advent 3 – December 13th, 2009 – Matthew 11:2-10

In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
Picture yourself in a prison cell, cold and dark and damp. You’ve not been treated well or respectfully, probably haven’t been well fed. The hygiene isn’t the greatest. And you sit there, waiting, your life in the hands of a king who isn’t all that stable. You have no rights, no protection under the law – you do not know what precisely will happen to you, but you know it will not be pretty. And you sit there, in that dark cell, all by yourselves. And why are you there, are you a thief, , a thug, a murderer? No, you are there because you came preaching the coming of the Christ. You declared out loud “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” You strove to prepare the people for His coming – including this King Herod who has you imprisoned, whom you admonished for his immorality. And now, the simple reality is that the next time you leave this cold, dark cell, it will be for when they come to take you and kill you.

You do get visitors – your students do come, they talk a bit about the news of the day. You hear bits about the stir Jesus is causing, the One who you had pointed to – but He’s out there, and you’re in here, and in here it’s dark and cold and you are so often left alone with your doubts and fears. Your life is on the line. Is it right? And so you ask your disciples, your friends, to go and ask Jesus a question. “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Is it really You, Jesus, who is the Messiah? Am I here for the Right Person?

John’s disciples go, and again, John waits, alone in that dark prison cell. We don’t know how long – he himself probably couldn’t tell, probably lost track of time. Time passes. And then, your disciples return. And they say, “He told us to come and tell you what we see, what we hear – the things that have been happening out here while you’ve been in jail. This is what He told us to tell you. “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the One who is not offended by Me.” And there, in that dark cell, John the Baptist rejoiced, was glad, was filled with joy and hope. There he would have been able to speak once again the words of our introit, Rejoice in the Lord always. And why – because of what Jesus says and does.

You see, as the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Do you understand John’s perspective? Is this Jesus really the Messiah, your Cousin who you knew growing up, is He really the Lord God almighty? You know, but you have doubts – and then you hear what He does. The blind receive their sight and the lame walk. Yes, that is something that the Messiah does – God Almighty who made heaven and earth will come, and He will fix His creation – the blind, those whose eyes have been destroyed in this sinful world, they are healed. Those who are lame, whose bodies are broken, they are healed. Creation is restored. That’s something the Messiah would do.

But more than just that – the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear and the dead are raised up. Leprosy and deafness, and even death, all had a common idea, a common theme. They separated people, they tore loved ones asunder. If you were a leper, you were banished, you would never see your family again. If you were deaf, you were cut off from your family, you could never hear them, never have a conversation with them again. Isolated and alone. And if you were dead, well, you were dead. But look at what the Messiah comes and does – He restores relationships – those lepers who were cut off from their family and friends now rejoice, now dance and touch and hold and hug their loved ones again. Those people who were deaf, who could not hear, now hear the sounds of their loved ones again. And the father weeping over his daughter, the mother weeping over her son, now hold in their arms their children alive again. The relationships that sin and the impact of sin tear apart – the Messiah has come, and He is beginning to put them aright.

But more than just this, the highlight of it all – the poor have good news preached to them. The poor, the ones whom the world overlooks, the ones whom the world would rather not deal with, they have good news preached to them. This Jesus is no charlatan trying to make a quick buck, this is no placater of persons, this is no false prophet trying to grease the wheels of sinful society – but the poor hear, the folks who have no way to repay, who have nothing in them that would make them worthy, the ones who are helpless and lost – they hear good news preached to them. Indeed, even those who are stuck in a prison like John is, who no longer will be able to do anything for this Messiah, people who according to the standards of this fallen world are worthless – they too have good news preached to them. This is the Messiah, come for them, come for all people.

But our Lord had included one line there for John, for uplifting him and supporting him. John’s disciples also add in that little line – Blessed is the one who is not offended by me. John would have heard what the Messiah is doing, what is going on, and he would not have been offended –rather, this was his hope – his hope that Jesus is the Messiah is proved true – and Jesus tells him that he is blessed. Do you know what that means? By saying this, Jesus says, “Yes, John, you are in that cold, dark prison cell. Yes, John, it will be your head on a silver platter. And yes, John, even with all of this, you are blessed, for I am the Messiah, I am God come to save His people, come to save those who are stuck blind in prison cells and shackled to the wall, those separated from family by prison bars, those who are even going to die – I am your God and Messiah, and because I am here whatever Herod does to you now, you are blessed for all eternity. This is what our Lord has John’s disciples preach to him, and John rejoices, and sounds of joy and wonder that cell had never heard echoed throughout Herod’s dungeon. And John was refreshed, and John was prepared to face whatever came. The Messiah had come, and all would be made right in the end.

This Sunday of Advent is named in the Latin “Gaudete” – the first word of our introit – Rejoice. That is the point, the theme of this day. That’s why the pink candle is lit today, why the 3rd verse of “Light One Candle” is “joy”. Because this is the Sunday where our focus is upon the fact that the coming of the Messiah brings joy even to the darkest, dampest places we are in. This story here of John in his cell serves to highlight the joy that we have as Christians in hearing of Christ and what He has done. It is a joy that nothing in this world can trump, can triumph over. Whether it be illness or frailty or poverty or loneliness or even persecution and death, the fact remains that the Messiah has come – that God Himself has come down from heaven, fulfilled the Law in our place, gone to the cross to pay the penalty for our sin, and He has been raised to life so that we too might have life ever lasting in His name. Nothing can change that – it is the truth – it is the truth that surpasses everything else. And so we are to take comfort, as Isaiah says, because our warfare, our rebellion against God is over – and Christ is the victor, and He gives us all the rewards and spoils of His battle to win us from sin and death and the devil. This is our joy – the joy that Christ tells John’s disciples to proclaim to him.

This is the joy that Christ wants us to be focused on. In our text, after John’s disciples leave to bring their joyous news to him, Jesus turns and asks the crowd a question. What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” You all went to see this John preach, why did you go? What did you want to see? “A reed shaken in the wind?” Were you going to see fluff? Someone who would put his finger to the air and just say whatever society wanted him to say? That wasn’t John. What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses.” Did you go to learn about earthly wealth and power and might? You wouldn’t hear that from John. What then did you go out to see? A Prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, who will prepare Your way before You.” No, you went because John was preaching the coming of the Messiah, and here I am. The focus of John was upon Christ Jesus – and that’s where John’s preaching and focus was supposed to be.

So let us then put Christ’s question to us. What do you come here to see? Do you wish to see a reed shaken in the wind – someone who will just tell you and teach you whatever it is you want to hear, whatever society says is good? Who will give you the good, entertaining song and dance? Is that what Church is supposed to be? Or should it be a time for learning how to get those fine clothes, that fine house, that nice car? A place to meet people and make connections so you can get that better job? Is that what Church is supposed to be? God forbid that this place ever crumbles and decays into that. No, this place is to be a place where Christ is pointed to and proclaimed – where we who are spiritually blind might be enlightened by God’s Word, where we who are made lame by sin might learn how to walk as God’s faithful, where our relationships with God and neighbor might be restored by the power of Christ’s forgiveness, where we might be given new and eternal life in Christ Jesus. And this is something that is done not by our strength, not by our power, not by our actions – but all of this is done by Christ through the power of His Word. St. Paul says that he, and those pastors after him, should be considered servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. And here we receive, we participate in those joyous mysteries of God – we hear absolution. We hear good news preached. We receive the very Body and Blood of our Lord for forgiveness and for life. These are the wonders and joys that happen here, that God brings to you and makes real for you here. This is the joy that you receive here no matter what your week was like, no matter what trial awaits you in the week to come. Christ Jesus has won for you forgiveness with His death and resurrection, and He now comes to you and gives you salvation. And we know that He shall come again. This is our joy, this is the joy to which we cling as we await His second coming, this is the joy that we hold to as we await the resurrection of the dead on the last day when we will be given glorious bodies like His. Christ has come to win us salvation, and He will come again to see that we have it in full. In the meantime, He comes in His Word, in His own Body and blood in His Supper as a pledge and promise and token of this that the world can never take away. Let us rejoice in the Lord always, again, I say rejoice. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King. Amen.

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