Sunday, December 13, 2015

Homily for Gaudete - The Third Sunday In Advent (Advent 3)

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.
Each Gaudete Sunday I feel compelled to restate this truth: John the Baptist did not doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of God. I know, I’ve heard many arguments maintaining that John did indeed doubt, after all, he was in prison, he knew that he would soon be executed, and, well, he was only human, right? John heard about all the wonderful things Jesus was doing for others, healing the blind, the lame, the leprous, and the deaf, but what about setting the captives in prison free? Isaiah prophesied about that too, right? I know, sounds convincing, doesn’t it? Surely it seems that John had good reason to doubt. However, consider this: John was filled with the Holy Spirit while in his mother’s womb and leapt for joy at Mary’s greeting in the presence of his Lord and Savior. And, John heard the Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism proclaiming Him His Son with whom He is well pleased, and he saw the Holy Spirit descend upon Jesus and remain with Him. John understood Himself to be, not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, but a voice crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare ye the way of the LORD.” John confessed of Himself that he was not worthy to loosen the straps of Jesus’ sandals. John knew that he must decrease and that Jesus must increase, and he was just fine with that. Truly, the evidence from Scripture supports the conclusion that John most certainly did not doubt whom Jesus was and what He came to do. Quite the opposite, from the plain reading of Scripture, it seems that John believed more than any other man or woman at his time.
So, then, why did John send his disciples to question Jesus if He was the coming one, if John did not have doubt himself? Well, presumably it was for the sake of his disciples, and it was for your sake also, that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His Name. Thus, John’s question to Jesus was designed to provide an opportunity for Jesus to demonstrate to his disciples how He and His works were the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy. John did not need to hear this, but his disciples did, and you do too. Jesus replied, “Go and tell John what you hear and see.” The proof was right there before their very own ears and eyes. “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.”
Here, someone may object that not all the blind have their sight restored, not all the deaf are made to hear, not all the lame are given to walk, etc. Moreover, not all the dead are raised up. And, what good is preaching as a remedy for poverty? However, this is fully consistent with Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospels. Physical healing and restoration is but an outward sign of the true spiritual healing that Jesus brings through the forgiveness of sins. Thus, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees who were offended that Jesus forgave a paralyzed man his sins. They claimed that only God can forgive sins. They were right, of course, but they did not recognize or confess that Jesus was God in the flesh. Therefore Jesus answered them saying, “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’?” The point is this: Whether or not the physical sign of forgiveness, healing and restoration, are given now, you and all who trust in Jesus will be healed, restored, and made whole once again in the resurrection of your body on the Last Day. Yes, the Lord does, at times, grant signs and miracles, however, you must believe and trust in Him and in His Word with or without signs and miracles, because Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and His Words bring into being what they say.
Further, there are spiritual forms of blindness and deafness, of lameness, leprosy, death, and poverty. Jesus’ closing words key us into that fact: “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” These words should bring to your mind the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. That there is blessedness in physical and material meekness, mourning, hunger, thirst, and poverty is the result of a lessening of things that might tempt you to sin and, in turn, an openness to the Lord’s filling you with His grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. Nonetheless, the fullest meaning of the Beatitudes is found in spiritual need being filled to overflowing with Jesus’ spiritual gifts. And so, the spiritually blind may have their eyes opened to see the Lord and His grace with or without the physical restoration of sight. The same goes with the deaf, the lame, and the leprous. Also, those in whom the Holy Spirit has created the gift of faith that clings to Jesus Christ for forgiveness, life, and salvation may rightly be said to have been raised from death to life. And, likewise, in Jesus, the spiritually poor are amongst the richest in the world.
John sent his disciples to Jesus so that they might see with their own eyes and hear with their own ears that He was the fulfillment of the Messianic promises and prophecies. However, once Jesus had demonstrated that to them, He then began to extol John the Baptist to the crowds as an icon of the humble means through which God carries out His divine and glorious works of salvation. “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” Jesus asked. If they thought that John was like the false prophets and teachers of their day, changing their position according to the popular thinking of the people, they were in for a surprise. John was no hollow reed, easily blown to and fro by the wind of popular opinion, but he was unwavering in his message, calling all to repent if they hoped to be saved from the coming judgment. “What then did you go out to see?” Jesus continued, “A man dressed in soft clothing?” John the Baptist was free of desires for worldly and material wealth, pleasure, comfort, and power. Because he was not beholden to such things, he was free to proclaim the truth without concern for loss should his message be received in an ill manner. “What then did you go out to see? Jesus concluded, “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and 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’.” John the Baptist was the greatest and the last of all the prophets, for He was the promised Elijah who would come immediately before the Messiah, preparing His way before Him by preaching repentance unto the forgiveness of sins. Jesus praised John before the crowd saying, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”
That one is Jesus Himself. Though He was without sin, God made Him to be sin for you that you might become the righteousness of God. Though He was with God, and was God, from the beginning, He humbled Himself to become a man, to be made a little lower than the angels, and to become obedient unto death, even death upon the cross, for which God raised Him up and exalted Him to His right hand in glory, giving Him the Name that is above all names that, “at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
It was John’s purpose and vocation to make disciples for Jesus by preaching repentance unto the forgiveness sins, which was marked by the sign of baptism. Therefore, John sent his own disciples to Jesus that they might sit at His feet and listen to His teaching, becoming Jesus’ disciples. Everything about John, from his infant confession of faith in his mother’s womb, to his humility and selflessness in service and life, to his bold and unflinching preaching of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins, to his baptizing repentant sinners in the Jordan, to his bold confession and preaching before Herod, to his humble confession in prison, sending his own disciples to Jesus, that, as was necessary and foretold, he might decrease and Jesus might increase – Everything about John was service to Jesus and to the LORD. So, also, must you be a servant, even a slave, of Christ, even as pastors are servants and stewards of the mysteries of God in service of you and of the LORD to His glory in all things.
John came to bring comfort to God’s people, comfort, not in terms of soft clothing and worldly riches, but the true comfort and peace that come from a right relationship with the LORD. This comfort comes only through faith in the one who baptizes, not with water, like John, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire, Jesus Christ. “Comfort, comfort ye, my people.” Come ye repentant souls and find comfort and peace in Jesus’ Words and Wounds. The ministry of John the Baptist continues in the Office of the Holy Ministry as pastors prepare the way for the Lord Jesus to come to you His people in His holy body and His precious blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Thus, there is great reason for you to Gaudete, to rejoice this day. The LORD is at hand.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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