Sunday, December 16, 2012

Homily for Gaudete (The Third Sunday in Advent)

H-5 Advent 3 (Mt 11.2-10)


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.

“All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass.”

This word is truth, though, most of the time, we exert herculean effort to live our lives in denial of this truth. Today, however, there are twenty-eight families in Newtown, Connecticut for whom the veil of denial has been savagely torn away; and there are many more, even us, who have been graphically exposed to the horrific reality of sin, evil, and death. Horror and grief are our only appropriate responses.

And, the question that is screamed into the heavens is “Why?” So many people are asking “Where was God?” Many more are asking “Is there a God?” And, some are cursing God, while others say that He simply doesn’t exist. People are afraid. People are angry. People are filled with doubt. People have lost hope and are filled with despair. But, there is nothing new about any of this. Indeed, people of every time and every place have suffered and died and questioned and doubted, ever since Cain murdered his brother Abel and spilled his blood in the field. Men slaughter men, children die, and the forces of nature and warring tribes and nations destroy lives and livelihoods, and God permits it to happen – and, that is the truth.

Theodicy – that’s the fancy theological term for trying to make excuses for God’s permitting evil and suffering in the world. I say to you, give it up. It’s a fruitless effort. God doesn’t need you to justify Himself, but, on the contrary, you need Him to justify you. That’s because, sin, evil, and death – these are not God’s creation – but these are man’s choice, your choice, and my choice. In the beginning, God gave man one command, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,” and God attached His Word to that tree saying, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Then the serpent came, outside of man whom God created good and in His image and likeness, tempting him to doubt God’s Word and to fear something other than God, to love himself more than God. Still, that temptation was not sin, but it was seed. Man received the seed, the seed bore fruit, and man sinned, and so death entered the world.

Once man had introduced death into the world, it was immediate that blood began to spill and God’s creatures began to die. The first to die were animals at the hand of God Himself. To clothe our First Parent’s nakedness, their guilt and shame, God sacrificed animals and shed their blood, clothing man and woman in their hides. From that point forward men sacrificed animals – oxen, bulls, goats, lambs, and pigeons – to cover over their sins. Their sins were never removed, but by the promise of God’s Word, for the sake of His own blood that He would eventually shed, He overlooked their sin and counted them as righteous and holy. He didn’t have to, and by all rights He shouldn’t have, for He is God and He is righteous and holy. He could have left man to his fate – death and eternal separation from the gracious presence of His God and Creator. But, God is also good, loving, gracious, and merciful; it would be contrary to His nature, even impossible for Him to do as sinful man would, to permit man to reap eternally what he had sown. So, He did what was necessary. He set in motion a plan to become a man Himself, the perfect man, and to fulfill all that was necessary to redeem man from his sin, evil, and death. He sent His only-begotten Son to be born of a woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law. Where He once shed the innocent blood of animals to clothe man’s nakedness, guilt, and shame, in time, He would shed His own blood and take away the sin of the whole world.

In the face of such senseless tragedy and violence – young lives taken in sudden death by horrific and evil means – we grope as in the darkness for peace and comfort, and all that we can find is nothingness, evil, and more death. Only the light of God’s Word can pierce the darkness of sin and death and provide us a path out. The wages of sin is death. It surrounds us as we live, and all who live must pass through its valley; but the Word of the LORD, which alone gives and sustains life, stands forever. His Word proclaims to you comfort and peace, not in place of your grief and sorrows, but in the midst of them.

John the Baptist pointed to the sacrifice that God would offer to take away the sins of all men. He pointed to Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” As Abraham confessed as he prepared to sacrifice his own son Isaac, “God will provide for Himself the Lamb.” Still, John, in prison, awaiting his own cruel death, questioned Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” Surely John looked at the horrible, dark, and evil circumstances he was in and wondered, “Where are you God? Aren’t you going to help me? Have I got this all wrong?” What did Jesus do? He directed John back to the Word of God: What do you hear? What do you see? “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. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” The effects of sin, evil, and death are being undone all around you, every day. God’s Word has gone out into the world; it will not return to Him void, but it will accomplish that purpose for which it has been sent. Like a shepherd, I will face grim death before you, and I will lead you, not around it, but through it, into my Father’s house forevermore. It’s a done deal, even before it happens! Your warfare is ended. Your iniquity is pardoned. You have received double for all your sins. Though the grass withers and the flower fades, this is under the Lord’s control, and He works all things, even the horrible, wicked, and evil things, He works even death for your good.

Why is there evil in the world? Why do innocent children die horrible deaths? Why is there pain and suffering, sorrow and grief? Why doesn’t God do anything to stop it? The answer to all of those questions, except for the last one, is sin. The wages of sin is death. Why doesn’t God do anything to stop it? He has. And, He does. He sent His only-begotten Son to become a man that He might take sin upon Himself and earn its wage, death. Thus, He has destroyed, not death, but the power of death, so that all who die trusting in Him, pass through death into deathless life. In fact, those who believe in Him and are baptized have begun to live that deathless life even now, life that can never be taken from them.

Whence comes comfort for those afflicted by grief and sorrow? Whence comes comfort for those afflicted by sin, evil, and death? Comfort comes from the Word of God which was, and is, and ever shall be: The Word spoken into the darkness in the beginning. The Word made flesh and dwelling amongst us. The Word crucified, dead, and buried. The Word raised up to new life on the third day. The Word ascended, reigning, and ruling all things at the right hand of the Father. The Word making all things new. The Word coming in power and glory, bringing a new heaven and a new earth. The Word present amongst us now to comfort us in our sorrows, to restore us to holiness, to strengthen our faith, and to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death, upon the path He has already blazed, into His Father’s house forevermore.

John didn’t get out of prison. Sometime later he was beheaded by Herod. But, John believed in the Word of the LORD, and he is amongst those souls in heaven who cry out “How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” To them, as to you, has been given a white robe and the command “rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who will be killed as they were, is completed.” We are all sheep to be slaughtered. We pass, not around, but through death. But, let us fear no evil; for, the Lord is with us. He comforts us with His rod and staff. He feeds us in the presence of our enemies. He anoints us with His Spirit and fills us to overflowing with His grace, love, and mercy. And He leads us, through death, into life with His Father and the Holy Spirit forevermore.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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