Advent 3 – Matthew 11 and Isaiah 40 – December 14th, 2014
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King +
“Comfort, comfort my people,” says your God. This is what Isaiah is told to proclaim, to prophesy. The war is over, sin is pardoned, the Messiah will come. Great words. And then, there is the verse pointing forward to John – “A voice cries in the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD.” Everything is great – the prophecy is in place. And then, what do we hear. Just a few verses later – Cry? What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades. Even knowing the Messiah is coming – what does Isaiah see? As the old hymn puts it, death and decay in all around I see. It can raise fear and doubts and worries – even in Isaiah, even in a prophet. What to do? There is only one thing – The word of our God will stand forever. Look to the Word, trust in that.
This is played out in our Gospel lesson today with John. When we see John, he is in prison. And he isn’t in prison singing, “If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.” He is in prison in a bad way, a cold dark cell, and when next he sees the light of day it’s because they are pulling him out simply to chop off his head. It’s a dark place, harsh, terrible place. And we hear this – “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, ‘Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” Well, doesn’t John know? This is John the Baptist, the voice crying in the wilderness! He was there in the Jordan river when the heavens were torn asunder and the Father boomed forth, “This is my beloved Son!” This is John the Baptist who pointed to Christ with words that we sing to this day, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” No man in History, not even Peter or Paul has more fervently proclaimed Christ Jesus to be the Messiah than John. Sure, he knows - and yet – there John is. In a cell. Cold and dark. About to be killed. Right then and there, John sees another truth – that this world is not how it should be, that things in this life are about to go poorly for him. The grass withers, the flower fades. And so He calls out to Christ and asks - Are you to the One who is to come – is this long advent, this long time of waiting done, or do we need to wait for, to look for, to trust in another? This prison is horrible, Jesus – am I still, even now, to put my trust in You?
Do not be surprised, my dear friends, when doubts and fears assail you, when Satan has you look at your life and whispers to you, “Is this how it really is supposed to be – If God loves you so much, why is your life like this?” This is what the serpent was doing to John in the prison. It’s the same thing Satan will try to do to you. But John doesn’t simply listen to fears and doubt, he doesn’t just focus on the walls of his cell – he does one thing that is beautiful. He seeks the Word of Christ – go ask Jesus – please, let Him speak to Me, let Him tell me what I need to hear. The Word of our God will stand forever. And so John’s disciples go to Jesus, and they tell Jesus what John asks, what John wants to know.
So, what is Jesus’ response? Does He say, “What, John is in prison? Come on boys, we’re breaking him out!” No. Does He lambaste John, “You go tell John that he should know better and that he just needs to suck it up and tough it out.” No. Does He say, “Ah, one who pays any attention to such fears and doubts is not worthy of me – be gone with him!” No. Jesus does what is wonderful – He proclaims the Gospel. “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.”
Go tell John what you hear and see – Go tell John what Christ Jesus has been doing. The blind – they see now, because Jesus speaks a Word of healing. Ditto the lame, the lepers, the deaf – all healed at Christ’s Word. Even the dead are raised – and the poor have Good News, have the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins preached to them. All this stuff, all these things that Christ does is the answer to John’s question. Are you the Christ, Jesus – well, look at all these things – these are the things that the Messiah has been promised to do – these are the signs Isaiah tells you to look for. Yes, John, I AM. I am the Messiah.
But this is more than just Jesus saying to John, “yes, yes, I am the Messiah.” What happens with all these things that Jesus would have John be pointed to? The blind see. A horrible wrong in this world, a horrible problem – Christ comes and fixes it. The lame, those with legs that don’t work – Christ comes, and they are restored. Lepers, those who are made outcasts by their disease – they are cleansed and restored to their communities. The deaf, those who are cut off from people even being right among them – they are restored by the Word of Christ. And even the dead, they are raised. What does all this mean? It means that the Messiah has come, and that the effects of sin, the ways in which it messes with life here in this world, that is all being undone by Christ. And the highest example, the greatest way in which wickedness is undone – Good News is preached to the poor. Not just the effects of sin like blindness or lameness, not even just the wages of sin, but sin itself is done away with and destroyed by the preaching of the Gospel. To those who have nothing, who have been utterly battered and bruised by life in this sinful, fallen world – your sin is forgiven, and you shall have life everlasting.
And through this Jesus says to John – “John, this too is proclaimed to you. I have not forgotten you in that prison, I have not abandoned you. You know why you are there – you are there because wickedness and evil and sin reigns in this world, and things are not as they should be. I come to put them aright, once and for all upon the Cross – believe in Me, trust in Me, be not offended by Me – but rather see and know that I put all things right – that even when Herod takes your head, you will rise, forgiven and justified to live forever.”
And through Matthew, through Matthew recording this Gospel – this is what Christ Jesus says to you here today. Do you look on the world and see things that are just horrible? Do you see your own situation, your own sin, and are nothing but ashamed and shocked and disheartened? This makes sense, for sin and wickedness is very real, and often it is very present in our lives. But listen to what Christ has done. In His days on earth, He undid evil, undid that which was wrong. But the chief thing He does is this. The Christ whom our fathers waited for, the Christ whose birth we prepare to celebrate, this same Christ, seeing you, seeing your struggles, your burdens, your hardships, goes willingly to the Cross, so that by His death and resurrection He would fully defeat Satan and the world and death, and by His resurrection win and assure you life everlasting. These trials of this life – they do not last forever. How long will the trials you face last for you – beats the tar out of me. Tomorrow might be better, or it might not. Some burdens might disappear, and some burdens might accompany you all your days. Over and against these, one thing holds true – that Christ Jesus has died, and thus your sins are forgiven; and He has risen, thus you too shall rise, and these troubles will be gone.
This Sunday in Advent is the pink Sunday, is “Gaudete – Rejoice”. Why then such a dour text? Because, oh Christian, your rejoicing is not rejoicing because things are great, not because right now life is high and everything is coming up roses. There may be times that is true, great for you. But that is not the center of your rejoicing. No, rejoice in this – You are poor, you are a poor miserable sinner, and there are times when it is quite apparent and overly apparent that you are – yet to you, Good News, the Good News of Christ’s love and redemption is proclaimed, and thus you have forgiveness and life in His Name – and this can never be robbed from you. This Word of life which Christ has given to you is yours – whether today is the happiest day of your life or the worst. Every day, wherever you are, wherever the twists and turns of this life, this world leads you, Christ Jesus is your Lord and Savior who has died and risen for you.
And whatever happens in your life, whether it be joy or sorrow, better or worse – be directed to the Word of God – come and hear what the Scriptures record for you – be told again what the Apostles have seen and heard – your Messiah has come – He has died and risen for you – He has joined Himself to you in Baptism, so that you are never alone but that He is with you in the face of every trial and shall see you through them unto life everlasting, He comes to you [today, now] on this very altar and strengthens you with His own Body and Blood in His Supper, so that you can face anything in this world until the day you see Him face to face on the Last Day. Because of this, you may rest secure in Christ, for He has proclaimed the Good News of His salvation unto you, redeemed you, forgiven you, made you His own. He came to win you this redemption, and now we simply rejoice and wait until He comes to bring all goodness unto us. Thus we pray, come quickly, Lord Jesus. In the Name of Christ Jesus, our Advent King + Amen.