+ Advent 3 – December 15th, 2013 +Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 35:1-10; James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-15
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation…
Darkness. There sat John, imprisoned in the shadows of Herod’s dungeon. The voice of one crying out in the wilderness now sends his question to Jesus.John’s sits in the darkness of that prison cell because of his preaching. He criticized Herod’s love-life, for his taking up with the estranged wife of his brother Philip. For that, the greatest of men born of women, the last of the prophets who came in the spirit and power of Elijah, was thrown into prison where he eventually died.
If this were a Hollywood movie, you’d expect the story to end a little differently. Maybe a prison break, Great Escape style. Or some miraculous flash-bang-kapow - glory of the Lord, angels, pyrotechnics, maybe even a dragon - why not?…and then out walks John, not a hair on his camel clothing singed. However, this isn’t the Gospel according to Disney. In this life, the kingdom of heaven lives under the cross.From the days of John the Baptizer until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force.
And there is more violence to come. Even in death John is the great forerunner of Jesus. For now, the man of miraculous birth awaits a humble, inglorious death. The man who proclaimed that the Christ had come to set the captives free, is in captivity. The man who pointed to Christ as the light of the world, sits in the abysmal void of a dungeon.And out of that darkness John asks: “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
How should we understand this? Who was John asking this question for – himself or others?If he was asking for his disciples’ sake then was for their reassurance. Even though John was imprisoned, he pointed his disciples to Jesus. Humble and lowly as He was, Jesus really is the Coming One, the Messiah. Jesus must increase; John must decrease.
And if John was asking this for himself, we could understand why. After all, John had faithfully and unflinchingly proclaimed that the reign of heaven was near – the long expected Day of the Lord had arrived at last. Jesus was supposed to come with a winnowing fork in his hand, not a cross. The axe was supposed to be laid to the root of Israel, not the root of Jesse.Jesus came and so did the reign of heaven. But Jesus came humbly and gently, he submitted to a sinners baptism; he healed diseases, cast out demons, fed thousands and proclaimed that his reign and kingdom had come…but not in power and glory. Rather, in weakness.
If John was asking this question for himself, it makes sense. He’s not the first to wrestle with the Lord’s promises: Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah. So don’t think that John’s doubts detract from his importance – Jesus doesn’t say that, in fact he praises him. And don’t think that he lost faith. In fact it’s quite the opposite. John, in his doubting sends his question to the one person who can truly answer it. Even in his doubt he looks to Christ. Remember the man in Mark 9… “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”Either way - whether John’s question was for his disciples or for himself - the way of the kingdom of heaven is the way of the cross, the way of suffering, the way of dying and rising, the hidden way of weakness over strength. The foremost prophet winds up in a dungeon and loses his head for criticizing the king’s morals; the coming One gets crucified for bringing the kingdom of God.
And either way, Jesus’ answer is a word comfort and consolation.Jesus’ Word dispels John’s darkness and doubt. His Word is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path, even in death. For that is where Christ completely upends the story. Suffering, then victory. Weakness, then glory. Death, then resurrection. Though John may have preceded Jesus’ death, Jesus’ resurrection precedes all of ours, John’s included. Jesus is the greatest forerunner of all he leads us through the grave to rise again. Christ’s death is John’s death and yours. So too, Christ’s resurrection is John’s resurrection, and yours.
Jesus’ answer to John’s question is a resounding: YES! Let me show you John: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised. See the signs. Just like Isaiah predicted. The Messiah is as the Messiah does. But the greatest miracle of all is this: the poor have good news preached to them. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.Jesus’ words of comfort to John are also yours…
Because in one way or another, this Advent season finds us all sitting in darkness. What holds you captive? Perhaps it’s the darkness of the holidays. For many families this is not the hap-happiest season of all: illness, grief, sorrow. Close friends and relatives have died recently or in years past – either way the wounds are fresh. There’s darkness in our financial and economic stress, unemployment, taking care of the family, making rent – don’t even mention Christmas shopping lists. There’s the darkness of an uncertain future: what does the coming new year hold for us?And then there’s the darkness of sinful burdens that weigh us down day and night.
Maybe it’s all of the above. Or maybe we think it’s too bad to mention – those dark secret sins we try so hard to keep locked away in our own dungeons, out of sight out of mind – like John.Whatever it is that holds you captive this Advent season – whatever prison you find yourself in. Whenever you find yourself asking the same question John asked: “Are you the One, Jesus?” Jesus has the same confident, reassuring, consoling answer: YES! Christ's death and resurrection pierce the darkness of our sin. For Jesus’ 3 day prison of earth and stone couldn’t hold the Lord of life. Your doubt, sin, and death are no match for Jesus. Arise! Shine! Your light has come. The people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light. On us, the Light of the World shines forth in the darkness of the cross.
So for us, just as for John, the eyes of faith are your ears. You are given even greater signs than John: Jesus’ own death and resurrection. You are baptized, a personal sign from God that His gracious reign has come to you and that you are a citizen of His eternal kingdom, a kingdom of hidden strength. You hear His absolution, spoken with the King’s authority, in His stead and by His command: your sins are covered and paid for. The King Himself has covered your debt and you are free from bondage to sin. And you’re a welcomed guest at the Kingly banquet feast of Christ’s blessing – His own Body and Blood – the fruits of His sacrifice, given and shed for you.And blessed – saved – is the one who is not offended by me, Jesus says. Blessed is the one who is not offended by the reign of heaven hidden in suffering and humility. Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by this Jesus whose power to save is hidden in weakness.
For there on the cross, under the clouds of thick darkness there is God’s answer to our prayer and John’s questions. Christ’s glory wrapped in the foul darkness of our sins. Christ’s victory hidden in defeat. Christ’s power hidden in humility.This is the hidden strength of Christ, the hidden joy of Advent. You may not have the “joy, joy, joy, joy” down in your heart on this Sunday called Gaudete. You may feel weak and powerless against the powers and principalities of this world. Your life may feel like a dark dungeon and the Herods of this world may appear to have the upper hand. But the strength of Christ is hidden for you in the weakness of the Virgin, the manger, the cross, the water, the Word, the bread and wine. The power of God for salvation is hidden for you in the weakness of the Gospel preached to all who are poor in spirit. The joyous reign of heaven is hidden in the sorrows of this life just as the joys of Christmas remain buried in this dark, hopeful, longing little season called Advent.
We simply can’t hear Jesus’ answer enough. “YES! I am the Christ who is coming just as John and Isaiah foretold”“Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not!”
Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.”
He came in human flesh to save you. He will come again in glory to save you. He comes in His body and blood to save you.