Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sermon: Advent 3 (Gaudete)

16 December 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA Text: Matt 11:2-11 (Isa 40:1-11, 1 Cor 4:1-5)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

John the Baptist is one of those preachers who is both loved and hated. The people thronged to him like no other prophet or rabbi. Our Lord Jesus describes him as being among the greatest of men ever born of women. The prophet Isaiah not only prophesies the coming of our Lord, but also the coming of John the Baptist, the forerunner, the “voice of one crying in the wilderness.” When John was a baby, his father, a priest, prophesied: “You, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways. To give knowledge of salvation to His people by the remission of their sins.”

John is a preacher of the Gospel, a messenger of the Good News, the one commanded to “Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”

But the Word of God that John preaches is a double-edged sword. Not everyone is happy with either message or messenger. For as Isaiah prophesies, valleys are to be raised, mountains are to be cut down, the crooked will be made straight, and the rough will be smoothed out. The humble person who is exalted will naturally be happy with John for raising him up, while the proud person who is brought low will, of course, not be thrilled with this preacher for cutting him down to size.

While multitudes came to John for a baptism of repentance, there were also those who sought to silence him. And, of course, the Object of John’s preaching, the One who came after Him, was received in the same way: the humble and the sin-sick heard good news and received healing, whereas the arrogant and the sin-secure heard judgment and received condemnation.

This is how it is that two people can hear the same piece of news and one will cheer while the other will hang down his head, one will be uplifted while the other will be enraged.

Isaiah’s announcement – that the warfare has ended, that iniquity has been pardoned, that the beaten down are to be raised up – is the Gospel, the greatest news in the history of man, the most blessed tidings to be heard since the terrible fall in Eden. But there are those who benefit from this war, a sort-of cosmic version of the military-industrial complex. There are preachers and religious practitioners who have no interest in offering comfort, for they enrich themselves by promoting fear, by perpetuating the enmity between God and man, by obscuring the mission of our Lord Jesus to redeem and re-create the world into the glorious paradise it was always intended to be.

For though John the Baptist was one of the greatest men ever born of a woman, even born in miraculous circumstances - he too was conceived in iniquity and in sin did his mother bear him. The bold preacher John – shackled, cold, hungry, and in prison – begins to doubt. The preacher also needs to hear the comfort of the Gospel spoken to him. He too needs to be on the receiving end of the Lord’s command: “Comfort, yes, comfort My people…. Speak comfort to Jerusalem and cry out to her, that her warfare is ended.”

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, if one of the greatest of all prophets, preachers, and men born of woman, a cousin of our Lord, the forerunner himself needs to be reinforced by the preaching of the Gospel, what do you think you need to hear regularly in order to keep your faith from faltering? What do your husbands, wives, children, and grandchildren need to hear on a regular basis to keep them out of the clutches of the evil one, to keep them from the dungeon of hell?

Those who hated John, those with a vested interest in keeping alive the hostilities between God and man, those who wanted to stifle the Good News and keep people on a path to death and hell, to hopelessness and rebellion, away from the love of God and removed from the forgiveness of sin – those people, led by their master Satan, wanted to make sure the people did not hear the proclamation of the Gospel that John was so faithful in preaching.

Again, parents, I’m pleading with you: Bring your children to hear the Good News preached – even if you have to physically drag them here. If you wouldn’t let them play Russian roulette, or shoot up with drugs, or get drunk and drive, why would you give Satan free reign over their hearts and minds by allowing them to absent themselves from the Gospel and despise the Word of God? Isn’t this even more dangerous to them?

Even the faith of John the Baptist was dependent on the Word of God. And what was that Word? How does Jesus bolster John’s wavering faith? He instructs John’s disciples to “go and tell.” Jesus sends John’s disciples back as preachers: “Tell John the things which you hear and see.”

Jesus explains to them that what is happening is an undoing of the fall. Blindness, leprosy, deafness, and even death itself are being undone. The once-hopeless poor are hearing Good News, and God is blessing those who hear the Gospel, those who hear it without being offended, without reacting in arrogance or pride, but rather in repentance and joy at being rescued.

If preachers need to hear the proclamation of the Gospel, if prophets themselves thrive spiritually on prophecy from God, if John the Baptist himself was dependent on a lifeline of preachers bearing Good News from the lips of Jesus, how much more are we, dear friends, completely reliant on being where the Word of God is preached, proclaimed, taught, expounded, and even given for you to eat and to drink?

For John was not only the forerunner of Jesus, he is the prototype New Testament pastor, the shepherd whose disciples are to be Jesus’s disciples, the preacher whose proclamation is that he must decrease, while the Lord Jesus Christ must increase, the one who holds up the Lord in His body and blood while crying out for the people to behold the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world!” John is indeed a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God.

The steward is not the master. He is a servant. He is a manager. He is there to make sure the master’s material things – such as his bread and his wine – are used properly and accounted for with propriety. “It is required in stewards that one be found faithful.”

A steward of the mysteries of the kingdom of God is not faithful if he is not proclaiming the Word of God with both edges of the sword. And the people of God, the hearers of the Word, are not faithful if they do not hear the Word and take heed.

I do indeed have Good News for you right here and right now, dear people! Listen to what the prophet Isaiah has to say about the coming of our Lord Jesus: “Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”

These are not words of thundering judgment, but of gentle affection and care of the One who loves you with a perfect love.

I have been charged to speak comfort to you, dear people. I’m pleading with you to listen, to hear, to be where comfort is spoken, where the Gospel is preached, where Jesus Christ is given to you in the very ways He has promised to be present with you.

For what do you hear and see?

You hear: “I forgive you all your sins.” You hear: “Comfort, yes comfort My people!” “I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins,” “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” “Forgive us our trespasses,” “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” “takest away the sin of the world,” “mine eyes have seen Thy salvation,” and you hear “You have refreshed us through this salutary gift.”

You see: the sign of the cross traced over you, a gesture hated by the devil and the ultimate reminder of the victory of Jesus over sin and death. You see: water poured over children and adults in a miraculous show of force against the evil one, You see: bread and wine that has become the body and blood of Jesus by the power of the Word of God, and your fellow sinners kneeling around the most holy place being transformed together as a family in faith and in the miraculous power of the Gospel.

What we receive in this place is not only comfort, but a divine promise that the comfort is for us. We not only hear Good News, but that Good News of Jesus is spoken with His authority into our ears and hearts. We not only see the physical presence of our Lord under the forms of bread and wine, but this body and blood of God in the flesh Himself is taken into our own bodies as an eternal antidote to all sickness and death according to His Word and promise.

The kingdom of God is at hand! The Good News is that you can repent, you can start over, and you can do so now! The Good News is that the Lord is bombarding us with His Word, the Gospel that ends our warfare against God and removes the curse of sin that has laid claim on us since the fall.

“The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of [our Lord Jesus Christ].” Amen.

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

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