Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sermon -- 3rd Sunday in Advent (December 15, 2013)

MATTHEW 11:2-10
 In the name + of Jesus.

      This isn’t the way it was supposed to look.  The disciples of John the Baptist were confused and dejected.  Their beloved pastor was sitting in a prison.  The voice of one calling in the wilderness had been muffled.  He should have become greater.  The kingdom of God should have exploded upon the scene.  The glory of the Lord should have been seen—welcomed by the faithful who were waiting for him and terrifying any who would dare oppose him.  These disciples must have felt deceived.  It was not getting better; it was looking worse.
     John the Baptist had been a powerful preacher.  His voice was heard not in the streets of Jerusalem, but in the wilderness by the Jordan River.  And yet, the people had streamed out of Jerusalem to hear John preach.  All flesh is grass,” John preached, “and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.  The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it.” (Isaiah 40:6-7)  John did not sugar coat the word of the Lord.  His job was to prepare the way for the Lord, and that meant telling all the people that they had to cast off their sins in humble repentance.  The thieving tax collectors, the floozy prostitutes, the bullying soldiers, the self-righteous Pharisees, and even adulterous King Herod and his unlawful wife, Herodias—John told them all to repent; for all were sinful. 
     John had not merely told them to repent.  After all, feeling sorry for your sins does not take them away.  It will only drive you to despair, because your guilt will consume you.  You know you are wrong.  You know you deserve punishment.  And so you begin to punish yourself.  You turn to destructive behavior.  You torture yourself mentally, spiritually, and perhaps even physically.  Martin Luther used to express his sorrow by putting dried peas into his shoes.  Some today take to slashing themselves.  That blood does nothing for guilt, because does not take away sins.  So, John the Baptist gave people remedy for their sins and their guilt.  He pointed people to Jesus.  There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  His blood would be shed, and his blood would atone.
     The reaction to John’s preaching was astonishing.  John called them to repent, and many did.  John summoned them to be baptized, and many were.  Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. (Isaiah 40:1)  John the Baptist gave hope and comfort by proclaiming that the Christ had come.  Look no further; your Messiah has come!  Salvation is here!  There is forgiveness for sinners! 
     But King Herod did not take kindly to John’s rebuke, and John was cast into prison.  John’s disciples were grieved and confused.  Where is the kingdom of the Lord now?  Where is the glory we thought was upon us?  Have we been mistaken?  Is there, perhaps, a different Messiah coming? 
     So John sent word by his disciples and said to (Jesus), “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”  And 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.” (Matthew 11:2-5) 
     Rather than give a simple “Yes” answer, Jesus urged them to witness what was happening right before their eyes and ears.  These were the very promises that had been declared by Isaiah.  In the seven centuries since Isaiah, nothing like this had been seen.  But here it was!  The miraculous signs were there to be seen.  The Good News was there to be heard.  There was no other that they should be waiting for.  Look no further; your Messiah has come.
     As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” (Matthew 11:7)  He reminded them that John the Baptist was no reed which blew whatever way the wind went.  Nor was he dressed to impress.  John was more at home in sackcloth than in silk.  Nevertheless, John faithfully had prepared the way for the Lord.  Though King Herod would eventually kill him, John’s voice was heard.  The kingdom of God advanced.  Look no further; your Messiah has come.
     Of course, you know the Messiah has come.  And you are members of his kingdom.  Yet, like John’s disciple, you disciples may very well be dismayed at what the kingdom looks like.  Your life is supposed to be better.  Your marriage is supposed to be easy.  Your kids are supposed to be angelic, or at least obedient.  Your patience should be unlimited.  You should always be happy, generous, and healthy.  So why doesn’t it look or feel like that?  You wonder, “Do I have the kind of Christian life I am supposed to?  Is this it, or should I be looking for something else?”  Dear Christian, do not be discontent with this Christian life, as if it is supposed to be a life without bumps or warts or tears.  You do not have a Messiah who tells you that life has magically become easy now that you are a Christian.  Instead, you bear a cross.  You fight against the devil’s temptations, the world’s callous attitudes, and your own sinful desires.  You are still a sinner who lives in a sinful world.  You will still find people who are blind, lame, and deaf.  You will still die.  That is because you still have sin clinging to your body.  You still have a sinner dwelling in your heart.  These are the things you need to be delivered from.
     If you want to be delivered from these things, then look no further; your Messiah has come.  He comes not to make life easy, but to deliver you to life everlasting.  He comes to rescue you from a miserable eternity and to bring you to a glorious one.
     Your Messiah has come to rescue you from every curse of sin—from the sins you still commit, from the guilt of sins past that still haunt you, from the fear of having to face your God, from the hopelessness that life just a meaningless drifting until you end up in a cold grave, from the despair that you cannot fix everything that you have messed up in your life.  Jesus rescues you from all of these things, for he has taken your sins upon himself.  He suffers.  He dies.  He is taken to a cold grave for the sins you hide in your heart and for the sins that flow out of your heart.  But that grave is not the end of the story.  Hardly.  Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  He appeared to scared and hurting disciples.  He preached Good News and poured out heavenly riches upon them.  He still pours out those riches.  Baine received them this morning in the waters of baptism.  You hear them in the soothing words of absolution.  You get to partake of them in the sacred meal from the Lord’s altar.  Through these, Jesus pardons all your sins.  He delivers you from death and the grave.  He promises you a resurrection to a life without hardship, without heartache, and without end.
     That is the life you pray for, is it not?  Then look no further; your Messiah has come.  He tells you that you will receive all these things and more.  But at the right time.  Just as it was with Jesus, so it is with you—in this life, you will know weakness and humility.  Here, you will bear a cross.  Glory comes after the resurrection.  But the glory will come.  Wait for it.  Pray for it.  But do not look to anyone else for it other than Jesus.  He is the only one who provides the comfort, the hope, and the peace you seek.  Look no further; your Messiah has come.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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