Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sermon for 12/16/18: Third Sunday in Advent

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Comfort from the Coming One

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

Advent is all about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ: His coming in the Flesh by way of the Virgin; His coming now in Word and Sacrament; and His coming in judgment on the last day. John the Baptist, that greatest of Advent preachers, proclaimed our Lord’s coming. He was a voice in the wilderness, breaking down the mountains of sin in men’s hearts, calling them to repentance. He preached and baptized to prepare the way for the Lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world.
But by this time, John is no longer baptizing and preaching. The people basked in the heat of his passion for a while, but then his stern message got him into trouble. He spoke against Herod’s immoral marriage, and Herod put him in prison, where he awaited the executioner’s sword. But John’s work was complete; our Lord’s ministry had begun. It’s time for John to decrease as he foretold. From death row, the one sent to comfort God’s people with the good news of the Messiah’s coming, seeks comfort from the Son of his kinswoman, Mary. He asks, “Are You the Coming One?”
He is not rebuked for this. In fact, Jesus praises John with unequaled praise. John is the voice of faith crying from the wilderness. He is about to die the martyr’s death. Upon that deathbed He seeks absolution, grace, and comfort. He does not ask to be let out of prison or spared Herod’s satanic wrath. He asks only for a word from Jesus. Our Lord does not disappoint him. He reassures. He promises. He gives. He points John back to the prophet Isaiah. He says: “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 the good news preached to them.” Yes, John, your martyr death is near. But do not be afraid. Do not give up hope. The Messiah has come! The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Blessed are those who are not scandalized by God in the flesh. Blessed are those who do not try to master Him, but who submit to His Word and will.
But many are scandalized by Jesus. His preaching is too absolute, too uncompromising. They prefer a Messiah who looks more like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny—comical figures who proclaim no doctrine, who have no morals. These are the ones embraced by the masses. But if John is not a reed swayed in the winds of human opinion and curiosity, then neither is the Christ he proclaimed. Jesus is not a member of the peace corps come to spread good will. He is a soldier with a mission. He has no time for hypothetical debates and scholastic speculation. He comes to baptize with the Spirit, to give the vision of faith to the spiritually blind, to enable those crippled by sin and death to walk by faith. He comes to cleanse filthy hearts, purify dirty minds, to bind-up disturbed consciences, and to open ears to His Word. He comes to proclaim the Good News of His arrival to the poor. He comes to give life to the dead. That’s the comfort John sought from prison. That’s the comfort Jesus gave him.
Still today, the power of His death and resurrection, the power of life—grace itself—is delivered in His Word. He comes still. He comes now. He comes in His Word—preached, heard, and read. He comes in the word of Holy Absolution, where He declares sinners righteous, restoring them. He comes in the waters of Holy Baptism, where sinners are joined into His death and resurrection, cleansed with bloody water and the spotless Word. He comes in His body and blood. He comes by His Word to strengthen and encourage, to comfort, to console. His Word is a creative, powerful, life-giving Word. It never passes away. His Word is rest for the lonely heart; comfort for the repentant; and life for those who once were dead in sin. 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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