Advent 3 2018

Matthew 11:2-11

December 16, 2018

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near! That’s the message of John the Baptist, which landed him in jail.  He called for Herod to repent over his illicit affair with his sister in law and Herod didn’t take it very well.  John the Baptist gets in trouble, can you imagine, for speaking to the truth about marriage. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. And if you're a friend of Christ, you may very well lose your head.

That's the lesson from John the Baptist. John intrudes upon us this Advent Season, willing to lose his head that we might get our heads on straight, that we might know Christ as the head, our source, and only source of life.  While in prison, John sends some of his disciples to Jesus asking him if He is the one they have been waiting for. Jesus answers John’s question with a strong “Yes, I am the One.” The deeds that Jesus has been performing are the long-expected signs of the Messiah, of the restoration of God’s people, of the keeping of God’s promises. God is at work, the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers and cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.

John is a fiery prophet of the Lord, and he knows it. But he was taken aback by what he has been hearing about Jesus while in prison for speaking the truth. Just as John was astonished when Jesus came to him at the Jordan to be baptized by him, now he is astonished that he has heard all these things about Jesus’ deeds, he has preaching the message of the coming Messiah, but it doesn’t seem to match what he is experiencing as he sits in prison. He is one of the poor, needing that good news preached to him.

How often is this the experience of those who follow Christ? How many times in your life have you looked around at your situation and wondering how you ended up there? You know Christ, you have heard what He has done upon the cross. Your sins have been forgiven. Yet, still you struggle. You struggle with the same temptations, the same doubts, the same fears.  And more, you know that you have victory in Christ, you know and believe that Jesus has come to save His people from their sins, yet He also teaches His followers to expect opposition and hatred.  And you face it. Go ahead and openly, publicly speak God’s truth about marriage, that sex outside of marriage is sinful and calls for repentance, and while you may be not be thrown in jail and beheaded, you certainly will cause some offense.

Jesus is offensive. The proclamation of the Gospel is foolishness to the Gentiles and offensive to the Jews. It is offensive to hear the voice of one crying out from the wilderness that you need to repent of your sins, and your sins are many. It is offensive that Christ calls His people to be holy, to be set apart from the world. It is offensive to think that God would lower Himself to become man, and die on the cross.  That’s not a very Godly thing to do in the eyes of the world, but coming of Christ is exactly what this time of the year is about.  John the Baptist prepares us for Christ's coming at Christmas, and prepares us for our Lord's next coming, which draws ever closer. (Peter Scaer) Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me, says the Lord. 

That Christmas is about Jesus is offensive to the secular Christmas celebration. I’m not talking about being offended at songs written generations ago and taken out of context.  What I am talking about is that Christmas is actually about the Mass of Christ, it is literally the meaning of the name. Keep Christ in Christmas is offensive to many non-Christians. The secular world has its own Christmas season that shares little to nothing with the Christian holiday and wants little to nothing to do with Christ.   

Unfortunately, the idea that we ought to keep the Mass in Christmas is offensive to many Christians. Parents, grandparents, this is to you specifically, but it applies it every single person here, and those who aren’t here. If you stay at home on Christmas, and unwrap presents rather than come to church when you are able, you send the strongest possible message to your children, to your neighbor, and to the world that Christmas is about gifts more than it is about Jesus.  What kind of defense could we have, what kind of excuse, when he came down from heaven for our sake while we can’t even leave the house to go to him? Or when the Magi, who were barbarians and foreigners, hurried from Persia to see him lying in the manger? But you, a Christian, can’t be bothered to travel even a short distance in order to enjoy this blessed sight? (Chrysostom, On the Incarnation)

Repent.  John the Baptist’s cry of “prepare the way for the Lord” is a charge to discern the Lord’s voice calling out to us in the midst of the noise that fills our daily lives and to persevere in the way of faith, and to focus our lives on the things that are good, right, and salutary. Repent, and rejoice.  Rejoice that the Lord is at hand.  He knows your excuses, He knows what offends you. And He still comes anyway. Jesus comes and offends your sense of self pride, your self-righteousness. He does so in order that all we are left with is Jesus, with His righteousness, with His holiness, with His presence.  He comes with mercy, and forgiveness and love. He gives double portion for all your sins. He ends your warfare against Him. He pardons the guiltiness of your sin. Rejoice for the Lord speaks peace and comfort to His people, to His saints. Do not turn back to folly. (Introit) Jesus has come for you. Jesus will come for you again.