Thursday, December 19, 2013

Sermon for 12/15/13--Third Sunday in Advent



Light in the Darkness

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

Life is not all cherries and rainbows and pixie dust. When hard times befall our neighbors, we know all the platitudes. Well-meaning Christians are full of spiritual one-liners. “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” “Just have faith and everything will work out.” “Believe in the power of prayer!” Maybe you’ve said some of those to someone, not knowing what else to say. But what about when things go for us like they went for John the Baptist? John was sent to preach the coming of the Lord. He said, “His axe is laid at the root of the tree and he’s going to chop down everyone who has no fruit and toss them into the fire!” But then an evil king throws John in his dungeon, and it’s not long before John’s head is on a silver platter. So is it any wonder that John wonders whether Jesus is the real deal? “Are you the coming one or do we look for another?” John is stuck in prison, and Jesus isn’t freeing him. So, should he be expecting someone else? John knows Jesus is the Savior, but as he sits there in prison, he awaits with all of the Old Testament Church the day when Jesus will bring the promised consolation of Israel.

In answer, Jesus points John to His works: healing, raising the dead, preaching the Gospel. Those are the things the Scriptures promised the Savior would do. Jesus never promises John that he won’t die at the hands of an earthly king who makes stupid promises on his birthday. But He does promise John that He’s his Savior. But there will be greater stuff to come John won’t see but which is still for John: a Savior betrayed, tried, nailed to the cross and left to die. John won’t get to see all that. But you know about it. It’s the Good News that the One who heals and raises the dead and preaches Good News does so because He is the One who conquers sin and death. That is the answer Jesus gives to John. Jesus is the Savior. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He’s the Savior who chops down our self-righteousness and rescues us from sin, death, devil and hell. And that’s true whether John should be freed from the dungeon or be carried headless to his grave.

But what about you? What about when you doubt? What about when you hear that Jesus has risen from the dead, but still you see the people you love die? What about when you hear about Jesus healing people but you get sick? What about when you hear Jesus is the Savior but it feels like the axe is laid firmly on your neck? What about when you know that Jesus is the Savior and yet you wonder if He’s going to save you? What then? Is it time for happy-clappy Christian clich├ęs? No. That, more than at any other time, is when you look to the comfort of the Word of God. Look at what Christ does. He still performs the great works today. He washes you in the waters of Holy Baptism, where you receive His righteousness which covers your sins. He speaks the word of Absolution, where everything you have ever done is forgiven. He speaks His Word to you so you too know that Jesus is the One that was promised. He feeds you with His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, to sustain you in your own earthly trials. When you say, “Jesus, my heart is heavy!” He answers, “You are baptized. I forgive you all your sins. I have conquered sin and suffering and death.” That’s the answer…especially for those times when you doubt.

In most ways, the answer Jesus gives isn’t the answer we specifically want. “I’m sick. I’m hurt. I’m troubled.” Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.” It seems so inadequate. Maybe that’s why we make up those silly sayings that don’t really mean anything. What’s true, what matters, is that Christ has conquered all things for you. Advent reminds us that we don’t need the quick, pat answer that doesn’t mean anything. We wait for the coming of Christ to fulfill all things, to make all things new, and to wipe away every tear. That’s exactly what He has in store for you. That is what sustains you in trial and persecution in this life, and it is what makes you fit for eternal life. In the name of the Father and of the Son (†) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.

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