SERMON FOR THE THIRD SUNDAY IN ADVENT, 17 December 2017
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Rev. Michael Larson
John, being locked in Herod’s rotting dungeon, sent word to Jesus asking if He was the one to come and redeem Israel – “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
As John was chained up and locked down in Herod’s cold jail – he needed the help and comfort of the Christ. He needed a sweet release – a rescue mission – from on high. He needed an advent – a coming of Jesus to set him free. Not to protect his neck from Herod’s cold sword but to preserve and keep his whole body and soul – to redeem Israel and forgive sin.
Jesus said that among those born of a woman there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet here, the greatest of all men born of a woman, is locked up, likely tired and beaten. Here the greatest of all men sends a message to Jesus, asking “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Even the greatest of all men, the fiery preacher from the river Jordan needed his doubts to be expelled. Things were far from clear at the bottom of Herod’s damp dungeon. Death loomed over him, and what frantic fears must have taken hold of him. Surely he was not a reed shaken by the wind – to be sure – but he was a man, - a flesh and blood man – like us. Like us, John had to do battle against the sinful flesh that clung to him.
He was likely afraid of death, filled with fear, and looking for comfort. Do not be offended by John’s question, “Are you the one, or shall we look for another.” It is a faithful question.
Like a child asking his mother if she loves him, John asks, "Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?" He knows the answer but wants reassurance, wants comfort. He wants to hear again what he already knows.
This is the language of faith and it is a sort of love language. Faith seeks reassurance and comfort. Faith seeks an answer where doubts spring up. And this is good. Faith goes to where God promises to be. Are you the one to come?
John is like a bride asking her husband if he truly loves her. The answer of course is “yes.” No matter how many times it is asked – it remains true. But with John we ask because we love to hear the answer. It is why we gather here, week in and week out. Together we rejoice and sing, “Alleluia, Lord to whom shall we go? You have the word of eternal life?
And this is the great surprise of being a Christian that is always new to us. To be taken back. Continually. Yes, I love you He says. I forgive you all your sins, He says. Do not be afraid. I am with you – He says.
You probably will not meet martyrdom in the fashion of John. But you will face crushing disappointments and trials along your way. And your time of waiting, of suffering, and persisting is worth it. Your trials are not insignificant – for you bear the marks of Jesus on your forehead – in your heart. In your wrinkles – in your bones.
You will not receive the cold blade of Herod’s sword but you will feel the cutting betrayal of a friend or the stabbing insult of a neighbor. Many will feel the crushing blow of loneliness in these cold dark weeks of December.
Like John’s musty, cold, and dark jail cell it’s messy down here – even amid the joy of Christmas. Our lives often feel like a dark prison – where no light shines.
There will be voids and patches of darkness this Christmas time for you personally. As you gather around the turkey, pie, and brandy – there will be family missing this year from divorce – a son will be missing – another family member will be crippled by depression - parents will show new signs of Dementia.
Like John the Baptist – your pain and agony is temporary – and it all will soon pass. John’s question becomes our own. “Jesus are you the one who will come down and save us or shall we look for another?” The question is a good one. And Jesus is your “Yes.” He is your amen. He is your “Yes, I believe – help my unbelief!” Jesus is your man. He is your God who comes down to you. And you need not look any further. For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
John the Baptist was called the greatest among all born of woman, because he pointed to Jesus, and said “Behold the Lamb of God.” He was great because he waited for Jesus and believed in Him. And Jesus loved John, before He leaped in the womb.
God is with us. In the muck and sin of our lives He is with us. In your own prison – like John – He is with you. In your ears, in your heart. In your bones, and on your lips. Jesus has scrubbed you down – washed you clean from all sin – and has made living saints out of you. Waiting – persisting – and standing strong for his coming.
This is why Isaiah preaches to us, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, Be strong; fear not!”
The Lord is compassionate and merciful to you. He has gone before you to prepare the way – the way of the bitter cross – a cross that has become so sweet for you. And when the time is right He will exalt you – and lift you up in His resurrection. And you will behold His face – and He will shine like the Sun and so shall you.
The advent candles are being lit but no light is comparable to the light of Christ who will scatter all the darkness. He will bring you into his marvelous light. The violence and dark gloom in which we fumble around – will dissipate – and this veil of tears will be lifted.
Jesus shall be born in Bethlehem to young Mother Mary and soon we will have to endure and wait no longer. The singing of angels can gently be heard in the distance. He who has ears let him hear.
Blessed are you who hear the words of Jesus. And blessed are you who suffer and wait patiently for Him. But for now, today, Rejoice, pretty soon now, you’re waiting will all be over. Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen.
Prayer of the Church
Let us pray for the whole Church of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs.
In peace, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the Church, that the God of comfort would pardon the iniquities of all who hear the Word and receive the Sacraments, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who have not heard the Gospel, that the God of comfort would send pastors and missionaries to proclaim the saving Gospel, and that the Holy Spirit would cause them to abound in hope, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For all with troubled consciences, that the God of comfort would show them the love of Christ, guide them to recognize that their redemption is drawing near through Christ, and bless them through the good news preached to them, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For all sinners, that the God of comfort would grant them faith to receive the forgiveness and eternal salvation given through the Holy Spirit, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the pure proclamation of the Word, that the God of comfort would cause the breath of the Lord to come upon us, and that the Word of our God would stand forever as He promises, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For all servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God, that the God of comfort would bless our Synod president, district presidents, all pastors and all missionaries with zeal to rightly divide the Word of truth and apply it correctly to all people, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For our president, governor, mayor, legislature and magistrates, that the God of comfort would work through them to enact and enforce laws which allow Christians to live and worship in peace, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the hungry, homeless, less fortunate and unemployed, that the God of comfort would have the good news preached to them and guide us all to come to their help and aid, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For the sick, hospitalized and recovering, Lou Gabrielle, that the God of comfort would heal them and strengthen them to endure their afflictions, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For students graduating from Concordia Mequon, that they would remain faithful to God, and utilize their various gifts to extend His kingdom of grace, let us pray for the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those going to the Lord’s altar today, that the God of comfort will grant joy to all communicants as they eat the body and drink the blood of Christ for their forgiveness, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
For those who mourn, that the God of comfort would bless them with confidence in the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting, and that God’s people may give thanks for all who have gone before us in the faith, let us pray to the Lord: Lord, have mercy.
Into Your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in Your mercy, through Your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.