Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sermon: Gaudete (Advent 3) – 2011

11 December 2011 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.

Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again will I say, rejoice!” 

The Lord invites us to rejoice, dear friends, and He even inspires St. Paul to say it again: rejoice!  The Latin translation of this verse – which we sang at the beginning of the service – gives this Sunday its distinctive name in the church year: Gaudete – “rejoice.”  It is also the source of the festive rose-colored candle that marks this week’s joyful break from the law-laden texts of our season of Advent.

And so, I will also say it again, dear friends, “rejoice!”

We need to be clear about why we are rejoicing.  What is it that fills us with joy.  Is it the fact that we Christians have nothing to worry about?  No financial worries?  No sickness, sadness, anxiety, or death?  Do we have perfect families, an endless supply of money and time?  Are we free from sinful thoughts, words, deeds, aches and pains, struggles and things that give us sore backs and gray hair?

Indeed, when St. Paul penned these enthusiastic and joyful words, he was languishing in a Roman prison, his fate in the hands of officials with no love for Christianity.

So why should we rejoice?  The fact that we live in such conditions, dominated by disease, pain, anxiety, sin, Satan, and death makes our rejoicing the greater.  The struggles that we all face under the cross bring clarity to our lives.  For the most part, we live a lie, pushing our own sin and our own mortality to the edges of our minds, ignoring them as much as possible.  But when we can’t cover it up, such as when our loved ones die, when we are sick, when aches and pains multiply, when we lose our jobs, when we have shocking family tragedies, when we are surrounded by injustice – in such times we understand that we are, like St. Paul, prisoners – chained to our sinful flesh, incarcerated in a deteriorating body, and held captive in an increasingly devilish culture.  We are attacked by bullies without and by our own hypocrisy within.

And, dear friends, this is all the more reason to “rejoice.”  For help is on the way!

Like St. Paul who came after Jesus, St. John the Baptist came before Him.  Both John and Paul were preachers of the good news, heralds of Jesus Christ.  Both called people to repent.  Both were brutalized for their confession and proclamation.  Both were beheaded by the authorities.

In the gloom of his prison, John the Baptist sends messengers to inquire of Jesus: “Are You the One who is to come, or shall we look for another.”  Jesus lifted John’s spirits by sending the messengers back with a testimony of good news: “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.”

In so many words, our blessed Lord invites John to “rejoice” even in prison, even with his own execution looming.  For help is on the way!

A popular soldier’s song from the War Between the States called “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp” speaks of POWs languishing in their cells.  But they hear friendly troops coming to liberate them.  The subtitle of the anthem says it best: “The Prisoner’s Hope.”

Prisoners of war develop a certain sensitivity to their conditions.  Cut off from news from home or from the battle front, they learn to read the clues.  When friendly troops get closer, the conditions begin to improve.  They get better and healthier rations, human rights violations decrease, and they may even be treated with respect.  They can sense when help is on the way, and even in their captivity, they have hope.  There is reason to rejoice.

Dear friends, we, like St. Paul and like St. John the Baptist are prisoners of the oldest war in creation.  We are imprisoned in this fallen world awaiting the “tramp, tramp, tramp” of our Liberator’s nail-scarred feet.  Even as we suffer, we suffer in joyful hope, as our hearts beat ever faster at the expectation of the Lord’s coming.

Jesus is our Liberator, our Savior, the One who has come to burst the bonds of our fetters of sin, to break the chains of death, to break down the walls of our mortal prison.  And even though we hear Him in the distance through His preachers, by means of His Word, in the sound of His promises – we rejoice and we rejoice again – because of our hope, because of what He has done for us!

And so when we suffer, our hope paradoxically increases.  When we hurt and struggle, it is then that we do not take false comfort in this broken world’s broken promises, but we look our captor square in the face knowing that he has been defeated at the cross and will be expelled for all eternity by our heroic Savior when He comes to set us at liberty by virtue of His blood and His cross, His death-conquering death, and His life-restoring resurrection.  Rejoice!

This is the good news – the “comfort” of forgiveness and freedom, of healing and life, of re-creation and eternity – that we “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” have been given to proclaim.  We have been charged to bring light to the dark dungeon, bearing keys to spring the prisoner from his bonds – by the work and Word of Christ, and Him alone.  We have been given a message: “Comfort, comfort My people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”  Rejoice!

With St. John and St. Paul, the church has been carrying out her orders for 2,000 years to: “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; life up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”  Again will I say, rejoice!

Dear friends, we do live in the fallen world.  We have struggles and temptations and trials and we contend with the ultimate enemy of death itself.  And yet, we join Sts. John and Paul from the dungeon defiantly and cheerfully crying out:

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again will I say, rejoice!”

The Lord Jesus is coming!  He is truly the prisoner’s hope!  With each passing year, the tramp of his feet grows louder, the era of the devil grows shorter, and the time of our redemption draws near!  For our Lord and Liberator is He “who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.  Then each one will receive his commendation from God.”

“Rejoice in the Lord always,” dear friends, dear fellow redeemed and rescued.  Rejoice as He draws near.  Rejoice even from our captivity as the days grow short.  Rejoice in the hearing of this good news!  “Again will I say, rejoice!”


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

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