Sermon Advent 3
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Here we are, the third week in Advent, when we should be talking about joy and getting ready for Christmas. But no, we are talking about discouragement and questioning our faith. But, we are where we are in life, and we can’t pretend not to be there.
John the Baptist is in prison. It has been a while since he baptized Jesus. It has been months, maybe years, since he heard the voice from heaven declare that Jesus was God’s beloved Son.
John has become discouraged. He has had plenty of time to think about things while he is chained in Herod’s prison. He has already figured out that things are not going to work out well for him. He knows his time is limited.
John must be wondering if everything he has preached, everything he has done, has been in vain. He has started to question if Jesus is the real Messiah after all. John wonders if he has been preparing the way for the wrong man.
He sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
Luther wanted to give John the Baptist the benefit of the doubt. He said John really knew that Jesus was the Messiah and he sent his own disciples so they could start following Jesus instead of him.
That’s certainly a possibility, but I think John may have been more like us. I think he was in a bad situation and he got depressed and discouraged. He started questioning his basic beliefs.
John is not alone in his troubles. Physicians and mental health professionals all report an increase in illness and depression this time of year. In the midst of shopping and parties and family celebrations, there is stress and fear and doubt.
The season of Advent is supposed to be about peace on earth and goodwill to all. The headlines and the things going on in our lives make it clear that peace and goodwill are just as scarce today as they were in the time of John the Baptist.
We try to deny the darkness by lighting another candle, the one with the happier rose color this week. We try to lift our spirits by buying gifts and wrapping them in brightly colored paper and putting lights and shiny ornaments on our trees.
But, all it takes is some kind of loss – a friend, a job, a loved one, to pop our good cheer bubble. Then our world becomes as dark and depressing as John’s prison cell.
John’s feelings are understandable. After all, he is in prison. He has been trying to prepare people for the Kingdom of God and it has not arrived the way he hoped. He knew his scriptures. The Messiah was supposed to come in and restore the Kingdom of God.
John was certainly a “fire and brimstone” type of preacher like the Old Testament prophets. Jeremiah said, “if any nation will not listen, then I will completely uproot it and destroy it, says the Lord.” Ezekiel said, “a fire will come out against all of the house of Israel.” John has been waiting, but he doesn’t see any fire or uprooting of nations.
John received the answer from Jesus. Jesus’ answer reminded him that sure, some portions of Old Testament scripture lead us to think that the Messiah will come with wrath and judgment. However, most of the prophecies tell us the Messiah will bring the age of healing and mercy.
Jesus sends a message to John. He reminds John that despite his selective reading of scripture, God is fulfilling the promises of the prophets. As Isaiah promised, the blind will see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead will be raised and the poor will hear good news.
Jesus is the Messiah. He just wasn’t the Messiah John expected. He didn’t do things the way John wanted him to.
Jesus is like that. He isn’t the Messiah we expected sometimes either. He doesn’t always answer our prayers the way we think he should answer them. He doesn’t do things our way. He does things God’s way. God’s way is usually too hard for us to understand so can we get discouraged and disappointed.
I think perhaps, that’s why Jesus said, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” This is both a warning and a promise. It warns that Jesus is a surprising kind of Messiah. He changes everything. He changes the life of everyone who encounters him. Change causes controversy.
There will always be challenges when you are walking with the people Christ calls the church to be with – the blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor. Anyone who expects the work of the church to be pretty and neat and tidy misunderstands the nature of the mission of Christ.
There is always potential for controversy when the church follows Jesus to speak on behalf of those whose voices are rarely heard, the ones who have no power in society, the ones who have great needs.
Jesus talked about the people who were the social outcasts and economic losers of his day – the people who need to hear some good news that they will have a warm place to sleep, food on the table, and care for their health concerns.
There will always be people who take offense at what Jesus has said. Just listen to some of the responses to our brother in Christ, Pope Francis, when he has quoted Jesus about the mandate to care for the poor.
There is a promise as well as a warning in Jesus’ words to John the Baptist. The promise is a blessing to those who are discouraged, depressed, completely unable to care for themselves.
We live in the time between Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and the time he will come again in glory. Sometimes we feel stuck between the promises God has made to us and the time those promises will be kept. We become discouraged. We can become disappointed in ourselves, the world, the church, even in God.
In those times when we feel like we are chained in a cold, dark prison, with no way out, we will hear a knock at the door. Jesus will speak to us in our weakness. He did not come for the strong and powerful. He came for those in great need, the weak and vulnerable, the ones who cannot save themselves.
In other words, Jesus came for us, to release us from our fears and sins.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.