Monday, December 12, 2016

Sermon for 12/11/16: Third Sunday in Advent

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Doubt and Comfort

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

Jesus calls John the greatest person ever of those born of women. In truth, John is a man obsessed with the Lord. But at the moment, John is a prisoner on death row. He would not bend like a reed in the wind. He dared to speak against the king's immorality. He is more than a prophet. He is a martyr. He will lose his head rather than play along and pretend sin is okay. It is this focus and desire, this single-minded zeal, which has made him the greatest of those born of women. Yet, even he, great though he is, knows some fear, some uncertainty. He is not perfect.
On this side of glory, inside every man of faith, inside every zealous preacher, there abides doubt fueled by sin. John asks: “Are you the coming One, or should we expect another?” Do not be scandalized by John's question. It doesn’t matter if he asked for his own sake or the for the sake of his disciples. Faith that waits is not yet perfect. It coexists with sin. It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For a time, faith lives with doubt. In the kingdom of heaven there is no doubt. Yet here on earth we believe and we confess those things we cannot see, those things we cannot prove, yet know to be true, even while a part of us doubts them. And so frail are we that it seems we only use the language of faith to describe and confess those things we doubt.
Faith goes where God promises to be and, like a child asking to hear the same bedtime story once again, or a wife wanting to hear once more that her husband still loves her, faith asks again: “Are You the Coming One?” And Our Lord is quick to reply: “The blind see and the lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and deaf hear. The dead are raised up and the poor have the Gospel preached unto them.”
John stood as a man outside of time. He was both the last of the Old Testament prophets and the first of the New Testament prophets. Like Abraham, he lived by faith; like Jacob, he wrestled with God; like Elijah, he embodied repentance in his body and garments; and like Isaiah, he pointed to the One who came to redeem us. He preached his fiery sermons for his own hearing as much as for ours. He needed to bear fruits of repentance. He needed the Lamb of God and the forgiveness of sins. He heard the Father's voice. He pointed to the end of his father's office and his own office. Finally he was relieved and his burdens removed. Faith got what it waited for.
In the same way, we also straddle two worlds: the kingdom of heaven and the new man on the one side, and the kingdom of the flesh and the old man on the other. We believe those things we doubt, those things we cannot see, those things we cannot prove. We hope. We pray. We wait. And with the father of the demon-possessed child we confess: “Lord, I believe.” And then we add our prayer to his: “Help my unbelief.” And so He does. Jesus gave His life for yours. He died and He rose again to set you free. Soon your burdens will also be removed. In the meantime the fruit of the vine is for you, the Cup of the New Testament in His blood, for the forgiveness of your sins, and the kingdom of heaven is poured into you. “The poor have the Gospel preached unto them” says Jesus. And so it is. This is the comfort John proclaimed, and it is my privilege to preach that same comfort to you. The blind see and the lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The dead in sin are raised up in the waters of Holy Baptism. Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. You have received double from the Lord’s hand for all your sins. And the Word of our God stands forever. 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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