In the Name of Christ Jesus the Advent King +
How do you know Who to look for? When looking for the coming Messiah, how do you know who He is? John – John knew. John knew the Messiah before he was even born – For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. This is John. John saw Christ and cried out Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! – words which we will echo here in a few moments. This is John, who when Jesus comes to him to be baptized boldly proclaims, I need to be baptized by you, and do You come to me? This is who John is – of those born of women none greater than he. This is John, Christ’s own messenger. But now, John is in prison, never to get out again. John is on his way to the chopping block, literally. Was this the way it was supposed to go? I mean, we are talking about John, the forerunner of the Messiah. If there’s anyone that God should get out of nasty messes like this, it’s John. And yet, there it is. A dark prison cell. Time slowly passing until an axeman with a silver platter will come. This isn’t what the time of the Messiah was supposed to look like – this isn’t the Christian life I envisioned. Locust and wild honey – sure. Camel hair and wild clothing – sure. Mighty preaching – sure. But isolation in a prison, a preacher left with no one to preach to, and just looming despair and death. Is this really what this was all about?
So John calls for his disciples and he sets them on a task. Now, when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are you to the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Did I mess up? Was I wrong, was I mistaken? Where’s the glorious revolution, where’s the time where everything is fixed?
Jesus has a fantastic answer which He gives. Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 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.” A wonderful answer. John baptized, John preached – Jesus does everything better. Jesus heals – washes way even leprosy. Jesus preaches even to the poor – they, the lowest people are even gladdened by the news they hear. This is a wonderful thing – and it shows that Jesus is the right One. See the signs that He is doing – He is indeed the Lamb of God, the One that we are to follow. John’s discples learn that they themselves are to follow this Jesus and no other. Yes, He is the One who was promised, the One who is here – He is the Messiah.
Now, go and tell John. Jesus remembers John, even in the midst of his suffering and trials and tribulations. Is it dark in that prison John – remember that the blind receive their sight. Are you bound and unable to leave – those crippled and bound now walk. Is it dank and dirty – even the lepers are cleansed by me – those isolated by deafness hear – and yes John, even the dead are raised. Yes, death is coming for you, a wicked little dance will do you in John, but it will not be the end – the dead are raised. This is the good news that is preached to the poor – even to those rotting away in a prison cell. Go and tell John – tell John that he might be supported in his time of trial by Christ’s own Word. And so John, his disciples, everyone there is prepared for what is coming because they have been focused upon Christ, because Christ has shown Himself to them.
So, what do we take and learn from this? First thing, right off – even for Christians, even for the best of us, life in this world will be scary and terrifying sometimes. This is what Satan wants to do – he wants us isolated and to make us see just how rotten and bad things are. Because, it’s true, things are rotten and bad. John’s story didn’t turn out like he probably hoped. How many hope and dreams do we have that fall short? And Satan will jump up and down and say, “look at this, look at these horrible things – is this what your life as a Christian amounts to?” And there are many ways that we in our sin will try poorly to deal with this. We can try denial, just pretending things aren’t bad, ignoring the elephant in the room. We can just try to keep ourselves too busy to care, too drunk notice, we can close our selves off more and more to keep all that bad stuff away. But it doesn’t fix it. And then, Jesus speaks. And does Jesus do? He points us to Himself. Yes, this world is messed up, but look at Me. The blind are healed, the lame are made to walk. I have come to fix things – not just now, not just for a day, not to make sure that your tomorrow is joyous – no, I come to suffer and die and rise so that your forever is fixed, so that your life is eternal and will last past the moments of this day.
This is how Christ prepares us this day to face whatever we face in our lives; this is how we are prepared this Advent season for the celebration of Christmas. We may not see so much the blind seeing or the lame walking – I make no claim to be a miracle worker. But there is one thing from that list that Jesus gave that we here in this room see and hear and experience. The poor have good news preached to them. Does that not continue on unto this very day – do we not gather here, together in this house as the poor in spirit, as poor, miserable sinners and have the Good News preached to us? Think on what we receive in preaching, in this service. Is there a time you are sent out those doors left to wonder whether God actually loves you – or rather is Christ continually proclaimed to you – is not the Cross of our Crucified Lord continually held before you – See what Jesus has done for you with His death and resurrection – you are forgiven. He is risen, and no matter what happens to you in your life here, you will rise to new life because of Him. This is the good news given to poor, miserable sinners – this is your windfall, a windfall of mercy and grace. And does this not color our lives – does not the Lord’s forgiveness shape us and how we see the world? Thus we are prepared for the Lord’s Coming, be it the celebration of His first coming at Christmas or His second coming.
But even more than that. When he was Baptizing, John said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Do you not realize that you have this – that you have the very Baptism that even John the Baptist looked longingly towards. Advent is the time of preparation for Christmas – and how are you prepared for Christ’s coming, how are to you keep your watch for Christmas? Think on what a gift you have received in Your Baptism. Not only were you washed clean of your sin, but you were joined to Christ – you were made part of His Body – Your Body became His temple. If this is true, if God’s Word on the wonders of Baptism are right – do you see what this means? You are baptized and joined to Christ – I would say that prepares you for Christ’s coming. Think on whom He has made you to be – you are now God’s own child – this is real and true. God prepares you by Baptism. As Luther puts it, “Thus it appears what a great, excellent thing Baptism is, which delivers us from the jaws of the devil and makes us God's own, suppresses and takes away sin, and then daily strengthens the new man, and is and remains ever efficacious until we pass from this estate of misery to eternal glory.” With this gift, you are prepared – remember it daily – this is why Luther recommends starting and ending each day with the Invocation and the sign of the Cross – the sign given to you as your own at your Baptism.
Again, we have another treasure for our preparation in the Lord’s own Supper. Think on what the Lord does – He gives us His own Body and Blood – life and forgiveness and salvation. Do you wish to be prepared, do you wish your watch for Christ to be right – then make use of the Supper! Hear again what Luther says, “On this account it is indeed called a food of souls, which nourishes and strengthens the new man. For by Baptism we are first born anew; but (as we said before) there still remains, besides, the old vicious nature of flesh and blood in man, and there are so many hindrances and temptations of the devil and of the world that we often become weary and faint, and sometimes also stumble. Therefore it is given for a daily pasture and sustenance, that faith may refresh and strengthen itself so as not to fall back in such a battle, but become ever stronger and stronger.” Everything you need, everything that is required for your life in Christ is given to you here; you receive from Him all that you need. Just as John and his disciples were pointed to Christ, we are pointed to Christ, indeed, we receive Him so that we are strengthened.
Cling to Christ, dear friends – trust in Him and His strength – receive the gifts He gives you and despise them not. In this way, dear friends, you will be kept strong and prepared what whatever befalls you in this life – and you will be able to welcome Christ with gladness upon the last day. You are not left alone, you are not forsaken, and even in the midst of your sorrows, Christ is with you, for you are Baptized, you are fed on His own Body and Blood. In this world, Satan will show you sin and terror and troubles – but there is a greater truth, a more wondrous truth. Christ Jesus came, was born, suffered, died, and was buried, and He rose again – and He did all this for you, for your salvation. You belong to Christ, and He will defend you ever more – even until He comes again on the Last Day. As His own Baptized who live in His Word and receive His Supper, we are right to pray, Come Quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.