Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Sermon: Wednesday of Advent 2 (Populus Zion)

10 December 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 1:1-8 (Isa 40:1-11, 2 Pet 3:8-14)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

We’ll all familiar with the old saying “Don’t shoot the messenger.” And the reason is, obviously, messages are not always good news. Sometimes the messenger has to carry bad news. And even though it’s not the messenger’s fault, he makes for a convenient target.

The Lord spoke to the prophet Isaiah and told him to deliver a message. He was told to:

“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!...

Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the LORD’s hand
Double for all her sins.
The voice of one crying in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth.’”

But for speaking these words of comfort, this prophet Isaiah, this voice of one crying in the wilderness, was put to death by a wicked king by being sawn in half.

Why would such a messenger bearing comfort be executed? Well, one man’s comfort is another man’s discomfort. Isaiah told the oppressed that they would be freed – which was not well received by the oppressor. For every valley that is to be exalted, there is a mountain to be brought low.

And yet, holy Isaiah continued with his preaching, faithful unto death.

Seven centuries later, another Isaiah-like messenger came to the wilderness to be a prophetic voice crying out. He preached the same message of comfort as Isaiah. His name was John, and he was also a holy messenger – in fact, the last prophetic messenger. He too preached comfort to the people of God and exhorted: “Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.” And John’s message of repentance was likewise met with mixed reviews. All of Judea came to be baptized by him, but there were also those who refused to repent.

One of those whose hearts were hardened, who held the same title of “king” as the one who executed Isaiah, put John into a prison and ended up beheading him.

Faithful John, like faithful Isaiah before him, was cut in two.

Another messenger, the holy apostle St. Peter encourages us with beautiful words such as his divine testimony that the Lord “is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance,” and that “[W]e, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.”

And yet, that little word “repentance” is what turns what is otherwise seen by the world as a harmless and sentimental “do-gooderism” into something offensive and worth killing over. St. Peter was likewise put to death by a king, being crucified in the name of the Roman Caesar like his Lord before him.

Quite often, God’s messengers are not merely shot, but sawn in half, beheaded, crucified, burned at the stake, thrown to hungry lions, beaten, tortured, imprisoned in lonely cells, and being removed of all worldly comforts.

And still these messengers proclaim. They proclaim in the course of life, they proclaim while dying, and through the Word of God, they proclaim centuries after their deaths. They continue to preach “comfort” – not in the sense of wealth and ease, of a carefree lifestyle, of a favorite recliner, or a berth on a cruise ship. Rather these holy messengers preach an eternal comfort in which “He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm.”

This message of ended warfare; of pardoned iniquity; of a new heaven and earth; of One mightier than all of us who baptizes us not only with water, but with fire and the Holy Spirit – is indeed the message that brings comfort to the Lord’s redeemed, those who have been baptized with water by messengers throughout the centuries, and those who have heard the good tidings proclaimed by preachers and who in turn believe in Him who sent them.

The proclamation of the Gospel is not received any better today than it has been in the past. The very idea that mankind is sick and in need of help is offensive to our human pride – which clings to our old Adam and deceives us into thinking we need no Savior. The message is as scandalous as ever, and the old evil foe seeks nothing less than the silencing of the message through the silencing of the messengers.

But nevertheless, the Church still proclaims and confesses. She still remains faithful to the message of the good tidings of the once and future coming of our Lord Jesus. She continues to wait with joy and repentance, for the advent of her Bridegroom. She continues to exhort the world to repent and believe this good news, and even today, is treated as though she is bringing bad news.

Dear friends, sometimes the messengers do get shot. You may incur the wrath of your family for suggesting that every person is in dire need of being in full communion with our Lord and with the Church, that they ought to be praying, drinking in God’s Word, and assembling with the faithful to receive the Lord’s Most Holy Body and Blood. Your friends and neighbors may treat you as some kind of an oddity for believing and teaching that the coming of our Blessed Lord is not a mere myth or a quaint story designed to make everybody comfortable. For clearly, the prophetic voice of “comfort” does not bring comfort to those who stop up their ears and refuse to repent. And in some places, Christians are still being rounded up, persecuted, harassed, gagged, and sometimes even imprisoned and executed.

But no matter how Satan may try to silence the One who crushed his skull, the Word of God goes forth and never returns void.

Let the Church continue in her prophetic message of the prophets, apostles, martyrs, and saints; the good news of our Lord incarnate, crucified, resurrected, and victorious; of sins forgiven, of the Gospel proclaimed, of sacraments administered, and of repentant and joyful lives immersed in the Holy Spirit unto eternal life. Let us sing with saints around the world as we praise God for these faithful messengers embodied in the life and preaching of the Holy Forerunner:

Our thanks for John the Baptist
Who till his dying day,
Made straight paths for the Savior
And heralded His way!
In witnessing to Jesus
Through times of threat or shame
May we with faith and courage
The Lamb of God proclaim.


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

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