Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
December 12, 2010
One of the themes of Advent is the notion of longing and expectation and one of the central figures of this season is John the Baptist. However, if you think back to the last two Sunday mornings we heard nothing about John the Baptist. The first Sunday of Advent sounds more like Palm Sunday than it does preparation for Christmas with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem and cleansing of the temple as recorded by St. Matthew. Last Sunday we heard an apocalyptic account from St. Luke regarding signs and wonders, fig trees and the like. So much for longing and expectation – well, not really. If you think carefully about Advent, you’ll remember that Advent isn’t just the first coming of the Messiah. We can’t properly think about the Incarnation if we don’t begin with the end in mind.
God’s plan for the salvation of mankind doesn’t simply stop at Christmas, or Easter, or Ascension, or Pentecost. It continues in a trajectory straight toward the Second Coming of our Lord and the final culmination in the establishment of the Kingdom of God for all eternity.
So, our lessons for Advent begin with the end in mind. They are of a more apocalyptic nature, and this morning and next Sunday the focus becomes more narrowed as we start to hear from John the Baptist and the nature of our Lord’s first coming. Even though we are moving our focus toward the manger, the second Advent is always looming in the background. Our collect reinforces that very fact when it holds the first and second comings in tandem with one another.
There is one overarching theme that I wish to focus on this morning as we look at the words of Jesus regarding his cousin John.
Our lesson opens with John at the end of his ministry and quickly approaching the end of his life, and he sends word to Jesus through some of his disciples, inquiring of him whether or not He is the Messiah, or is there someone else coming.
What is John’s motivation for asking such a question?
Is he sitting in prison now questioning his life’s work?
Has everything he’s done up to this point off base?
Is he suffering now because I was chasing after the wrong things?
Those are terribly relevant questions, and I dare say, ones we might ask ourselves.
Am I supposed to face this type of opposition in the proclamation of the Gospel?
Have I been doing or am I still doing God’s will in my life?
John is seeking affirmation and don’t we desire the exact same thing? The last thing any of us would ever want to do is travel down a lonely path only to realize that we took a wrong turn somewhere along the way.
In turn Jesus doesn’t simply send them away with a yes answer. Instead he tells them to open their eyes, open their ears, and observe what Jesus has been doing up to this point. He tells them that the blind have received their sight; the lame are now able to walk; the lepers are free from their horrible disease; the deaf are able to hear; the dead are now alive again; the poor have the Gospel preached to them.
We come again to a question that reappears throughout the Gospels – why does Jesus do it this way? Why didn’t he just say yes and go about his business?
I believe it’s because he wanted them to know it, accept it, and believe it for themselves. He wanted them to search their hearts, and what they’ve heard all their life in the Scriptures that Jesus is the fulfillment of the explicit prophesies of Isaiah, but implicitly throughout the Old Testament.
Isaiah 26:19 says, “But your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise; awake and sing, you who lie in the dust.”
Isaiah 29:18-19 says, “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; And out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD, and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.”
Isaiah 35:5-6 says, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; Then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the dumb will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe.”
Isaiah 61:1-2 says, “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the lowly, to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, To announce a year of favor from the LORD and a day of vindication by our God, to comfort all who mourn;”
In essence, Jesus is telling the disciples of John to receive the same gift of sight that He’s given to the literally blind; to receive the same gift of hearing that He’s given to the literally deaf.
After the disciples of John depart Jesus turns and asks the multitudes three times in succession, what did you go out to John to see? If you went out to hear and see John, what were you doing out there? What were you expecting, what did you want to hear, what did you long to see?
Jesus then answers his own question with two stunning statements: a reed shaken by the wind; a man clothed in soft raiment.
What’s Jesus getting at here?
Think about that first image, a reed shaken by the wind. It’s a lovely sight to behold, but it provides no real support. It almost collapses under the weight of a small bird, and can do nothing more than respond to the winds of change that constantly toss it to and fro. Jesus is asking them if John’s message falls into that same category. Did what he say simply sound like one thing today and another tomorrow? Did it vacillate depending upon which outside force might be acting upon it at the time?
The answer to that question was an unequivocal NO! John preached a very consistent message that those who were coming to him needed to change their way of life, to repent of their sins, and seek a new and amended life. His message was firm and was on solid ground.
Second, John’s message wasn’t like a courtier in a king’s palace who simply said the prudent and politically correct things to say. John wasn’t trying to impress anyone, but wanted to impress upon those who would listen that the Kingdom of God was breaking in amongst them, and that they needed rousing from their slumber. The people needed to know that there was someone else coming, the thong of whose sandal John would not even be able to stoop down and untie. God was coming, and they were going to be able to see Him, speak to Him, and ultimately follow Him.
I mentioned at the beginning that there was an overarching theme to John’s message and it is this – John always pointed beyond himself. It was never about John; it was always about Jesus. He never sought his own glory, honor, or fame. As a matter of fact, he set all of that aside for the job he was called to do from his very conception. If you remember, John’s father was a priest and was offering the appointed sacrifices when the angel appeared to him proclaiming the birth of his son. John was part of the priestly line, and yet, he laid all of the benefits that came from the lineage to do God’s work.
We too are called to that exact same work. Our life as Jesus’ disciples is not to point to ourselves, the good works that we do, how well we think we live our lives, but to the goodness and glory of the Lord we serve and proclaim as Messiah. As I say many times at the offertory, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven.” As John told his disciples, “He must increase, and I must decrease.” John always knew that his entire purpose in God’s plan of salvation was to serve as the forerunner for the Messiah. He was the one, as we will hear next week, who would be, “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”
Jesus then says that John was in fact a prophet, and goes one step further. He declares that he was more than a prophet. He was the one that had to come to prepare the way for God’s salvation to come into the world.
John’s words then should ring true today, “Repent ye, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. I am the voice crying out in the wilderness; make straight the way of the Lord.”
However, we save the most wonderful of all of John’s recorded words for later in our service when are invited to our Lord’s table, as the bread and wine are elevated before us to adore, and is proclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him that taketh away the sins of the world.”
Let us with joy prepare our hearts to receive Him again, the one who takes away the sin of the world.