Monday, December 12, 2016

Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Advent: "Who Are You?"

+ 3rd Sunday in Advent – December 11th, 2016 +
Redeemer Lutheran, HB
Series A: Isaiah 35; James 5:7-11; Matthew 11:2-15

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

Long before the Who sang out those famous lyrics, “I really wanna know! Who are you?”; and long before the Caterpillar in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland asked Alice, “Who are you?”, John the Baptist asked a similar question of Jesus: Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? Who are you, Jesus?

Last week we heard who John was: I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: prepare the way of the Lord. That’s John’s identity: a voice proclaiming Jesus’ arrival: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. A finger pointing to the only oasis in the wilderness: Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
In today’s Gospel reading, John wants to know, who Jesus is.

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

“My mother told me how I leapt in her womb with joy when Mary delivered the good news that she would give birth to a you, our Savior. I was there with you in the Jordan River when the heavens opened, the Father’s voice declared you to be his beloved Son, and the Spirit descended upon you as a dove. I have heard the reports about your preaching, teaching, and healing throughout Judea. And here I sit. In the dark. In Herod’s dungeon.”

Who are you, Jesus? Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

It’s not too hard to understand why John asks this question. Preaching real repentance for real sin was not likely to get him a major book deal on the Jerusalem Times best sellers list; it was just as unpopular then as it is today. Same goes for John’s judgment of Herod’s adulterous relationship with his brother’s wife. John was thrown in prison, and eventually beheaded.

Perhaps, like many in his day, John had certain expectations of who the Messiah was supposed to be. The axe, the winnowing fork, the fiery breath, the judgment. Messiah was supposed to be a strong man, God’s appointed warrior, someone who would gather an army, lead a revolution, put Israel back on the map, make Israel great again, restore the throne of David and all the glorious splendor of Solomon. 

And then along came Jesus. Humble. Lowly. Meek. He asks John to baptize him the Sinless One with a sinner’s baptism. He ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors. He healed the sick. Raised the dead. Forgave sin. The axe was laid to the tree, but Jesus let the axe fall upon him. God’s wrath was poured out in judgment, but Jesus came to be judged in our place. Jesus was a strong man, a warrior, and a king, but one whose strength was in weakness, whose victory was in death, and whose throne was the cross for John and for you.

Today we join John in the prison of this fallen world asking Jesus a similar question. Who are you, Jesus? Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another.

And it’s easy to understand why we as a congregation might ask this question. We see popular Christian churches and leaders who scratch the itching ears of the sinful flesh, and yet they prosper. We see more and more churches specialize in entertainment and social programs instead of proclaiming the Gospel, and they grow. We see churches throwing out preaching and teaching of real sin, real repentance, and a real Savior for anything and everything that feels good. And truth be told, our sinful flesh thinks the same way. We want a house-trained John the Baptist, without all the camel hair and repentance. We want a tame God who meets our expectations.

John’s preaching may be unpopular, but it’s still necessary. John will not point us to our feelings, scratch our itching ears, or coddle us with a spoonful of sugar. John preaches about our real sin so we can see in Jesus our real Savior. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. John points us to the Lamb hidden in bread and wine for you who comes today to take away your sin.

John may be gruff and rough around the edges, but the church needs John the Baptist, so that we as a congregation would learn how to stand apart from the world for the sake of the world; to look, speak, sing, and act differently than every other place in the world for the sake of reaching out to our neighbors, friends, and family with a Gospel that is not of this world. When the world asks who are you Jesus? We have the best answer of all. Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.

Maybe this Advent, we find ourselves asking John’s question in a personal way as well. Who are you, Jesus? Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another.

As much as people talk about joy, festivities, and happy holidays, this time of the year, for many people – and maybe you’re one of them –isn’t the hap-happiest season of all: illness of body or the mind, grief, guilt, and sorrow overwhelm many, especially at Christmas. Close friends and family members have died recently or in the past – either way, the wounds reopen around the holidays. For some there is the strain of finances, unemployment, uncertainty in the economy, taking care of family, making rent. And then there’s our own personal prison…a solitary confinement of guilt, despair, and darkness within where we try, like Herod, to lock away our sin in dark dungeon out of sight, out of mind, just like John.

Who are you, Jesus? Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?
“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.”

Whether it’s today, next week, or next year - whenever you find yourself asking the same question John asked: “Are you the One, Jesus?” Jesus has the same confident answer for you: YES! I am Immanuel, God with you.

Jesus gives you the signs he gave John. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the unclean are clean again, the dead rise, the poor hear good news that they are not poor. These signs reveal to faith what our eyes cannot see. The kingdom of God has come with the coming of Jesus. The Son of God has come in the flesh. The light shines in the darkness, even as the darkness seems to prevail.

Who are you, Jesus? A holy child born of Mary in whom we see the glory of our Lord in human flesh. In Jesus’ hands, outstretched on the cross, our weak hands and feeble knees are strengthened. In Jesus’ heart, pierced for our transgressions, we find healing for our anxious hearts. Jesus came to save you, and John, and all. As St. James declares, in Jesus we see the Lord’s is compassion and mercy.

So, even if you don’t have the “joy, joy, joy, joy” down in your heart on this Sunday called Gaudete (which means rejoice!), Jesus comes for you. If you feel weak and powerless against the powers and principalities of this world, Jesus comes for you. If your life feels like a dark dungeon and the Herods of this world appear to have the upper hand, Jesus comes for you. If you have questions, fears, and doubts like John, leave them at the manger and the foot of the cross. Jesus comes for you. Jesus comes for you in the most unexpected of ways: hidden for you in the weakness of Immanuel, God with us, in the manger, in the cross for you, and in his body and blood given for you.

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?

“Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God has come. He comes today for you. And he will come again to save you.

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

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