Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sermon: Gaudete (Advent 3) and St. Lucy

13 December 2009 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.

After thousands of years of waiting for the Anointed One to come, after millennia of prophets preparing the way, the time had arrived. There was only one more prophet, and his name was John. His testimony was much the same of every prophet: “Repent, for God’s kingdom is near.”

John was not just a prophet and a witness, but the last prophet to point forward to the Christ and the first to witness His public ministry.

John was flesh of Jesus’s flesh, a cousin through our Lord’s Blessed Mother. John was the son of St. Zechariah the priest and of St. Elizabeth the holy woman of God whose Spirit-inspired praise of her cousin Mary would be written in Scripture. John leapt in his mother’s womb in proximity to the fetal Lord Jesus. And John was called to preach, and that he did. And John would finally be called to surrender his disciples, to yield up his freedom, and deliver his head to his enemies for the sake of the Gospel.

Our Lord said of his cousin, the Lord’s messenger: “Among those born of women, there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”

The greatness of John was not in himself. For John himself announced that Jesus must increase while John must decrease. John understood that he was not the Messiah, but had the honor and the duty to preach the Messiah. And like the moon in the heavens, John’s task was to reflect a greater light, a light not his own. And in this process of handing all the attention over to Jesus, John found himself in darkness, locked in a dungeon, the words of his testimony seemingly silenced. John sent his Lord and cousin some disciples with a question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another.”

Instead of giving John a straight answer, Jesus pointed John to the evidence. For this is what either validates or disproves testimony. It is evidence that sheds light on the veracity of a witness. “The blind receive their sight,” notes our Lord, “and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up.” Our Lord saves the greatest miracle for the last: “The poor have good news preached to them.”

Having heard this assurance, this testimony from the Greater Light himself, John’s lesser light would be extinguished by wicked King Herod’s sword.

And though the enemies of the cross can snuff out the life of the witnesses, they cannot rid the world of their testimony, nor extinguish the Greater Light about which they testify. And this, dear friends, is why this Sunday is called “Gaudete” – meaning “Rejoice!” Even in death, we yet live. Even though the evil one uses violence to attack the kingdom, he is powerless to stifle the Word, to extinguish the Light, to take away our place in the kingdom.

The Church continues to celebrate the witness of lesser lights who reflected the Greater Light of the Lord Jesus Christ. Today is such a feast day in the Church, a day particularly beloved to Lutherans. On this evening, our brothers and sisters in Scandinavia will honor St. Lucy, otherwise known by her Italian name, Santa Lucia. Young women will wear white gowns symbolic of baptism and purity, as well as crowns adorned with lights – which call to mind St. Lucy’s name (which is based on the Latin word for “light”).

Lucy was a 21-year old Christian young lady living in Sicily. And though she was a consecrated virgin, she was being forced to marry a pagan. She refused, and insisted that her dowry instead be given to the poor. The Christians were already being persecuted under the wicked emperor Diocletian. It was a time of open season on our dear brothers and sisters in Christ. Lucy was arrested and tortured. Her eyes were gouged out before she was killed with the sword.

In testifying to the Light of Christ, she accepted the darkness of blindness. In bearing witness to eternal life, she accepted death. And though she was neither a prophet nor preacher, Santa Lucia is a witness to the Greater Light. She gave testimony even as did St. John the Baptist. And though to the Romans, the testimony of a woman was worthless, to us Christians, the life and witness of every martyr and saint is precious, a testimony of Him who died so that we might live; of Him who died bearing our sins so that we might live as saints.

When St. Lucy was brought before the Roman prefect, he told her: “Your words will be silenced when the storm of blows falls upon you!” Lucy replied: “To God’s servants the right words will not be wanting, for the Holy Spirit speaks in us.” That is what makes St. Lucy’s testimony so powerful.

And this is why we continue to honor St. Lucy and St. John the Baptist, witnesses of the kingdom who continue to give testimony of the kingdom and of the King through the Holy Spirit by the example of their lives and in their witness of Jesus Christ, saints who continue to pray around the throne of the Lamb in eternity.

For in spite of the severance of John’s head by the sword of a Herodian guard, St. John gave his life for the sake of Him who is the head of our holy body, Christ the head of the Church. And though her eyes were darkened by the sword of a Roman soldier, St. Lucy gave her life for the sake of Him who is the Light of the World, Christ the Light of light, very God of very God.

For John, Lucy, and “for all the saints who from their labors rest” heard the Word of the Lord: “The blind receive their sight.” The old paradigm of disease, decay, and death has made way for the new age of love, light, and life! “And the poor have good news preached to them.”

This, dear friends, is why we rejoice! We rejoice in the face of another troubled year in the world. We rejoice continuing to wait for our Lord to return. We rejoice in the midst of the aches and pains of aging. We rejoice even surrounded by heartache and betrayal. We rejoice as those around us become ill and die. We rejoice with our brethren around the world, who, treading the path of Sts. John and Lucia, continue to live as witnesses of the Light of Christ – even in persecution, as their own lives are threatened or even taken.

We rejoice even as we pray with our brothers and sisters around the world:

Lord, give us courage as You gave to St. Lucy. As we celebrate her entrance into eternal glory, we ask to share her happiness in the life to come. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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

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