Sunday, December 11, 2011

Homily for Gaudete–The Third Sunday in Advent



Matthew 11:2-11; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Isaiah 40:1-11

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” asks Jesus. What were you looking for? What did you expect to find? What did you hope to hear? Were you looking for some malleable teacher who would minister to your felt needs, leaving you secure in your sins, telling you that you’re a good person, better than most, keep up the good work? Or, did you expect to see an icon of self-help and prosperity, a guru of good and practical advice that would tell you how to get out of debt, raise your children, save your marriage, and be happy? Or, did you hope to hear that it doesn’t really matter what you believe, so long as you believe something, that all that really matters is that you remain devout in your belief and are good person, more or less.

If that’s what you went out into the wilderness this morning to see and hear, then you surely could have found it somewhere, for this wilderness world is filled with smooth-talking and forked-tongued false teachers who are all too eager to tickle your ears and to take your money and tell you to believe in yourself and to think positively and all will be well with you. This wilderness world is full of venomous serpents spitting poisonous doctrines, often in the name of Jesus, teaching that what God has called sin – murder, adultery and fornication, covetousness, jealousy, lying, slander, and theft – are virtues when they done in the service of the common good, personal freedom, or just about any other justification men may conceive. You can hear anything you want in the wilderness. There’s at least nine public options available right here in little ol’ Pawling, New York! That is, if you even bother to venture out at all, for there is countless variety on the television and the internet to suit every felt need, taste, and itching ear.

But then, perhaps you came out into the wilderness this morning for a different reason. Perhaps you came out to hear the Word of the Lord, a Word of condemning Law and a Word of consoling Gospel. What have you come out to see? A prophet, a mouthpiece for the Lord? Yes, they are in the wilderness too, thanks be to God! However, they can take a little more effort to find, and they don’t always look and sound like what you might think. But, you will know them by the Word that they proclaim, teach, and confess, for it will not be the opinions and platitudes of men, but it will be the Word of the Lord. Quite often it may seem harsh, for the Word of a prophet will not leave you comfortable in your sin. But, if you are willing to receive the Word of the prophet and to confess your sin, then he will have even greater Words of comfort and hope for you. And, he may not be the most charismatic of men, arrayed with the symbols of worldly success, preaching to packed houses, standing room only, but he will be an instrument of God’s grace to bring you forgiveness, life and salvation through the Words and Wounds of Jesus.

Who are these prophets of the Lord today? They are the pastors, ministers, and servants of the Lord placed under Holy Orders to tend His flock until He comes. They continue in the ways of John the Baptist, preparing the way for the Lord by preaching repentance and by baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. But they also point to Christ and His suffering, death, and resurrection as the source and reason of your forgiveness and they deliver to you the gifts He died to give you: His Gospel Word, Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and His Holy Supper. These treasures do not belong to them, but only their faults are their own, and for these they are responsible to Christ alone. For, what matter is the condemnation of men if Christ approves, and what matter is the approval of men if Christ condemns? You should receive them as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. And, as stewards, faithfulness and trustworthiness is their only duty and their Master alone is judge.

Like John the Baptist, God’s stewards prepare the way for Christ’s Second Advent in this wilderness world of sin and death. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, they proclaim God’s Word of comfort that Jerusalem’s warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. The Church of Christ is this New Jerusalem, redeemed in Jesus’ blood. Now is the time in which She waits and watches in hopeful expectation for the return of Her Bridegroom, Her Husband, Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ. And, during Her time of waiting, God has sent His stewards, His pastors and servants of Christ, to guard and protect and to prepare the Church for the Advent of Her Lord. The Words they speak are His Words. The Gifts they distribute are His Gifts. Repent, believe, and receive; they are for you, bought with a price.

“What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” asks Jesus. What were you looking for? What did you expect to find? What did you hope to hear? Not everyone was attracted to John the Baptist. He used harsh words. He was unrelenting in His conviction and message. He did not look like the well-dressed and groomed rabbis and Pharisees. Because of his preaching and teaching, John found himself in Herod’s prison awaiting execution. John knew that people, even his own disciples, would be scandalized by his imprisonment and that they would interpret it as either John’s failing or God’s failing. Indeed, today men routinely reject preachers who faithfully and truthfully proclaim and teach God’s Word and who remain unflinching even when that Word stands in opposition to popular worldly views. Additionally, they judge the effectiveness and the veracity of a preacher’s ministry by worldly standards of quantitative and monetary success. Thus, John sent his own disciples to Jesus that they might hear from His own lips that everything was proceeding just as God’s Word by the prophets had foretold, indeed, what they have both heard and seen for themselves: 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. John’s disciples had witnessed these very things which were in direct fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. Though we often have expectations concerning how God should act and what God should do, Jesus teaches us to look rather to what He has said and done. Our false expectations set up stumbling blocks for us and for others which put them and us at risk of tripping and falling into sin and unbelief. Thus Jesus concluded His Worlds to John’s disciples saying, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”

But, too often we are offended and scandalized by Him. We are offended and scandalized by disease, suffering, and death. We are offended and scandalized by the wickedness and evil of men in this world. We are offended and scandalized by the lies, deceptions, and treacheries that men utilize in their dealings with one another. However, do not be offended and scandalized, for such have men and the world always been and even your Jesus has suffered in this way and He has told you that you, His disciples, will be treated just as He was treated.

That is why Jesus then turned to the crowd who was gathered around Him saying, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” What were your expectations? Were they in accord with the Word of the Lord? If you came out into the wilderness expecting to see a man having no convictions, easily swayed by the ways and wiles of this world, then your expectations were false. If you came out into the wilderness expecting to see a man dressed in soft clothing, taking delight in material comfort and excess and encouraging you to do the same, then your expectations were false. If you came out into the wilderness to hear a word of platitudes and cheap grace, leaving you complacent in your sinful thoughts, words, and deeds, then your expectations were false. Or, did you actually come out into the wilderness to hear a prophet, a man of God who will tell you, not what you want to hear, but what God wants you to hear and what you need to hear, that you might repent of your sins and receive forgiveness and comfort, life, and salvation in and through Jesus Christ? If so, then I tell you, you have found a prophet, indeed, more than a prophet. “This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.”

And yet, “the one who is least I the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” For, John was the forerunner; he was sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, supplanted by those who witnessed the words and teachings, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the Apostles of our Lord, even the pastors of the Church of Christ, and you, dear children of God in Christ Jesus. For, you are ones who live on the other side of Christ’s victory over death and the grave. You live in the eternal eighth day, a day on which the sun will never set, so that even though you die, you will live eternally in Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus’ victory is your victory, now, even in the face of lies and corruption, poverty and war, disease, suffering, and death. Blessed is the one who is not offended by Him.

Therefore, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,” that your expectations may be shaped and normed by God’s Word kept and fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Give no regard, then, to worldly and fleshly judgments and evaluations when it comes to the mysteries of Christ and His stewards. “Do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart.” For, He has come and all things have been fulfilled just as has been written by the prophets. And, He is coming, and all that dwell in darkness will be exposed in His glorious light. And, He comes to you, now, and “His reward is with him, and His recompense before Him. He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Blessed is the one who is not offended by Him. “Behold your God!”

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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