Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The readings for the Third Sunday in Advent all talk about preachers. Isaiah the preacher; St. Paul who calls himself and all preachers “stewards of the mysteries of God;” and St. John the Baptist, the greatest preacher and prophet in the kingdom of God up to the time of Jesus. But preachers weren’t only sent for the Old Testament faithful and for those who were alive at the time of Jesus. You were given a preacher, too, whose job is to remind you of your baptism, to absolve you of your sins, to teach you God's Word and to give Jesus' body and blood to you. In the readings for today, we have two questions: one for me, the preacher; and one for you, the hearers. And these two questions are tied together by what our Lord tells St. John. That way, we—me as the preacher and you as the people of God—will all learn the true comfort that Isaiah preaches: the comfort of Jesus Christ.
Isaiah, called by the Lord to preach, heard the Lord's voice: “Cry out!” And Isaiah answered, “What shall I cry?” It’s not unusual for a pastor to ask himself, “What am I going to preach this week?” And I know what you'll say: “Pastor, you'll preach about Jesus and his gifts again.” I do that every week. But if I preach faithfully every week, why don't we have twice as many people as a year ago? Why isn’t our bank account overflowing with money? Even John, the mighty preacher who proclaimed that Jesus was coming with his ax in one hand and his winnowing fork in the other, had to ask, “Are you the coming One? Or do we wait for another?” Perhaps he was thinking, “If I’m preaching the right message, why am I sitting in a jail cell?” So what should a faithful preacher proclaim? The Lord answers Isaiah, John, and all preachers by saying, “Cry out: All flesh is grass! The grass withers and the flower fades, but the word of the Lord endures forever!” The pastor’s job is to preach God's Word. It's the Lord's job to do something with that Word. Whether there is one person sitting in front of this pulpit or a thousand, a pastor is supposed to preach God's Word: the Law which tells us that we deserve to be punished for our sins; the Gospel that Jesus has paid the price for our sins by His death, that we like Israel have received double for our sins!
So what about your question? Jesus asks the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken in the wind? A man dressed in fancy clothes? A prophet?” So why are you here? What are you here to see? Why are you in church today? Did you come hoping to hear your pastor stumble over his words again during the announcements? Did you come hoping your pastor will do something you don't like so you can complain about it? Did you come because pastor is a really nice guy with a perfect cranium? Did you come hoping to hear something that will make you feel good or better about yourself? Just as it is a pastor’s desire in the imagination of his heart to preach something that will make him famous or rich or popular, it is a hearer’s hidden desire to hear what makes him happy, what will tell her how to live a more successful life
John sends some disciples to Jesus and asks: “Are you the coming One?” Jesus just doesn't look or sound like the fiery Judge that John was preaching. But pay close attention to how Jesus answers. “Go back and tell John what you see and hear: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the poor have the Gospel preached to them.” He doesn’t just come out and say, “I am,” though it would have been the truth. Instead He shows that His work fulfills everything the prophets said the Christ would do. Jesus is doing exactly what God promised. John is to believe and trust in Jesus because what Jesus says and does matches what the Scriptures say about Him: that He will come in the flesh, born of a woman, to crush the serpent's head; that this Servant of the Lord will suffer and die for the sins of His people; that their sins will be laid on Him; that their iniquities will bruise Him; that His stripes of suffering will heal us of our sins. All this Jesus does and fulfills in His preaching and teaching and most especially and completely in His suffering and death and resurrection. The orphans are given a father in Holy Baptism. Sinners are absolved. Those hungering and thirsting for righteousness are fed with Jesus body and blood! The poor have the Gospel preached to them!
My brothers and sisters in Christ, look around and see and hear the works of God: at the font, from this pulpit, at the altar. Hear the comfort and the consolation of the Scriptures which declare that the Savior has taken away your sins. When you see your pastor tempted to doubt and despair, lift him up with God's Word. And when you are fallen into doubt and despair, let your pastor lift you up with that same Word, for the Lord will use your fellow sinner to deliver that comfort to you. 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.