Third Sunday of Advent—Sermon
12/22/13— Year A
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is, as they say, either feast or famine. In the moment of a quick passing of time from last week to this week, the beloved forerunner, the one above all those born of woman has now found himself in this dichotomy. Last week it was river front views, water repentant dunks, stirring words spoken to the masses of Jerusalem and Judea, feasting on the delicacies of the wilderness, locusts and honey, and wearing the finest threads of the prophets. This week it is abandonment, loneliness, the three walls and barred cage of a prison cell. No scenic view to gaze out upon. No rays cascading down from the heavens to warm him in the afternoon sun. No crowds, nor multitude to preach to and the honey which once flowed down like oil upon the beard has dried up and become nothing more than a matted beard of remembrance, bringing tears as glued together follicles snag and pull out. The locusts remain nothing more than the former feast of nature’s bounty, as that once popular message, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” has become the warrant for his arrest. The boasts of pride, hope, and faith about the one who is to come after, the one who baptizes with fire, who stands read with ax and winnowing fork to bring judgment and salvation for Israel, has now become a wandering lament, an interrogative whimper, “are you the one, Jesus, or should we look for another?”
Though I can’t speak from any personal experience, I imagine that prison does that to a person. Sitting in a darkened cell, remembering what was, while having forced conversations with Herod to pass the time. Knowing that He once proclaimed the Kingdom freely in the light, He now finds himself surrounded by the darkness of the world, and soon by the darkness of a seducer’s dance and a foolish king’s offer. We cannot know for certain how long before that deadly dance took place that John sent out his disciples, but knowing the word that he had spoken against Herod and Herodias; I have little doubt he knew his days would end in that prison cell. The night grows darker, the days get shorter and His present reality begins to force the question, “Are you, Jesus, really the Coming One?” Perhaps it was power and a show of force he was expecting, like others awaiting the messiah. Perhaps in his own call for repentance and the bad trees to be cut down, he sits imprisoned awaiting for One who will come and chop down that most fruitless and most pathetic excuse of a tree, Herod. Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, we hear him once again this day cry out from another type of wilderness seeking assurance and hope that it all had been for not.
Perhaps none of us have been in a prison, but undoubtedly at one time or another we have been in that other wilderness as the Baptist. We have undoubtedly felt the darkness of life, the darkness of the world, or our own most guilty and painful sins surround us. We have felt the whispers of that evil doer proclaiming his own kingdom, not of light, truth or grace, but of sin and death, pushing us and luring us out of light to join him in the dark. Causing us to question our faith, our bold convictions of the kingdom, and even making us to doubt the One of whom John himself prepared the way. Some of you may or may not know this, but the name Ian is Gaelic for John and I know I have found myself in the wilderness with him. We all have, from sickness to divorce and broken hearts and broken families. From poverty to the seduction of wealth. We all encounter that force which stirs in us doubt and lead us on the path to despair. We do it individually and we do it communally. We do it as individual members of the body of Christ and we do it as a Congregation of the Lord. Reformation, like Ian, like John, has no doubt asked the question as it waited 7 years for a pastor, as it endured conflict and anxiety, as it built and now lives with a building. While the demands press upon us further, we wait we watch for a big act, a showy display of the Lord. We wait for a miracle, a tree to be cut down before our very eyes, and in the shedding of anxious tears as things look even darker we cry out with John our own questions, “Are you, Jesus, the Coming One or should we look for another somewhere else?”
To which our Lord tells John’s disciples, “Go and tell him the things which you hear and see. The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.” The kingdom is indeed being revealed, not in great works of offensive power, but in the simple lives of all whom the Lord Jesus encounters. Our Lord brings in the true Kingdom which the forerunner longed for, but could not see. Though it looks like darkness in the prison cell, the dawn of the Lord’s salvation is breaking upon Israel as Isaiah’s words are fulfilled by Jesus. From His word and by His hand a blind man is given sight and the seeing pharisees are made blind. From His word and hand the lame woman is restored and those who walk well are made to stumble. By Jesus Christ the unclean are made clean and the poor and broken in spirit are given the good news of God. The joyous news that they are not abandoned nor forsaken. That they indeed are truly the greatest in His kingdom, for they are loved and though fasting now they will feast at the banquet which has no end. Jesus in essence reiterates the prologue of another John’s gospel to give and ground him in hope while he sits in his cell, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot and will not overcome Him.”
It is that same word that our Lord speaks to us and affirms and confirms in us this day and every Lord’s. We poor, tired, broken, deaf, lame, lepers are healed, cleansed and this very day have the good news of Jesus Christ proclaimed to us. We need not wait for another, because He is the One. The only One who restores and makes whole. He is the One who conquers every foe would keep us from Him. And He is the One who will bright light and illuminate our darkness: as a choir sings anew, as the youth continue to unite and grow in our congregation, as conflict resolves and dissonance becomes harmony, as a family feels like a family again, as we have the good news read and preached to us, and as we taste and see the Lord’s goodness around this table. We need not wait for another, because there is no one other than Jesus Christ who can do these things. Who does them not only in overly dramatic displays of power, but in the lives and hearts and souls touched, healed, and forgiven by His Word and by his Hand. Though we go through times of fasting, He alone makes sure that we will feast again!
His light shines in the depth of our darkness and He will always out last it. In the light of the resurrection He will completely and forever obliterate it. That is why this Sunday is marked by a Rose candle, and if I had the money I’d be wearing Rose colored vestments today, for this Third Sunday of Advent is known by its Latin name, Gaudete Sunday. That is, Rejoice Sunday. Though the night grows longer and the days get shorter we rejoice in the Lord always, because this is why He first entered into this world. He came to shine into our darkness and He will come again at the last to turn every night into an everlasting day. For He always and forever wins, having defeated every enemy of God and man by His death and resurrection. United to Him by faith we too will at the last wear the victor’s crown. Nothing and no one can ever over take us, for we have already been overtaken by Christ. Our darkness is removed as our sins are forgiven and the Holy Spirit moves and implants faith in us working His will in our lives. In Christ, we are sons and daughters of the eternal Kingdom and by Him we are brothers and sisters of the King!
Therefore Rejoice in this season of Advent as we wait. In a few short days we will gather under the cover of darkness set the cosmic scene for our celebration of our Lord’s birth and we will sing with the angels. And as we do, as we make our Christmas preparations in this season we do so with our lighted candle, with the little light of faith, renewed and strengthened by the Word of Christ to John, knowing that in Him the prophets have been fulfilled. Knowing that there is absolutely no other for whom we could wait, because Christ alone has the Word of eternal life (which is why we sing it every Sunday!). A Word that speaks into our darkness, which comforts us with His presence as it did to St. John the Baptist. Who now has received the promise fulfilled, that the dead are indeed raised, and that true and everlasting feasting has returned to him. That feast of which we ourselves long to return to us while we wait, keep watch, pray, beg, and plead:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.