Rejoice! Christmas is getting closer. Yes, it’s still two weeks away, but a little joy breaks through today. That’s why we have the pink candle. In some churches rose-colored vestments are worn on this day instead of purple or blue. It represents the sorrows of the penitential season being lightened by the coming joy of the feast. But John certainly seems sorrowful today. He’s stuck in a dark, dank, infested jail cell dungeon under Herod’s palace beyond the Dead Sea. There’s nothing to rejoice about there. Shouldn’t Christ come to rescue him? Shouldn’t The One he preached save him in reward for what he did for Him?
But Christ Jesus does not reward us that way. St. John’s work was not done. He was not done preparing the way before Him. He still had disciples to send to Christ. But there’s more. He had to prepare His way in death too. He was killed by the authorities to show that Christ would also be killed by the authorities. He was martyred to show that all Christians will suffer for Christ. He was martyred to show that it is an honor to suffer even a small bit of what our Lord suffered. That is proof He loves us, for He is making us more like Him. He wants us to exercise our faith. Suffering, not riches, is a sign He loves us. So when you suffer for His Name or when you are sick, do not think He has forsaken you. Remember how much He suffered for you and give Him thanks, for He has made your suffering good and holy.
But John may not have been convinced of that. Certainly His disciples weren’t. They weren’t convinced Jesus is The Christ. He heard in prison the works of The Christ, which seems to say he knew exactly what was going on but his disciples didn’t believe it. So he sent them to Jesus to find out for themselves, and to give him comfort in his distress. After all, even the strongest believer needs comfort from God’s Word!
So Jesus told them to tell John everything He was doing. He tells them to tell him everything they’d heard and seen, which sounds like they saw Jesus do this stuff! What was He doing? He was giving sight to the blind. He was making the crippled walk. He was cleansing lepers. He was making the deaf hear. He was raising the dead. He was preaching good news, The Gospel, to the poor in spirit. Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by Him.
Scandalized? Ashamed of Jesus? The old hymn tells us never to be ashamed of Him, but so many have been. The Jews’ leaders were ashamed of Him because they didn’t want a Messiah from sin, only a savior from Rome. Peter and the disciples were ashamed of Him when He suffered. People today are ashamed of Him when they give up the morals of His Commandments for the degenerate morals of this world or when they prefer to think we mere mortals play a role in our salvation, whatever that role may be. We would be ashamed of Him if we prefer what we think to what His Word says, whenever we think His Word on some topic isn’t important, whenever we let the world take over our lives, whenever He does not hold first place in our heart. Yes, we want to say we’ve never been ashamed of Him, but that would be a lie. Repent.
Repent and let the poor be evangelized. Who’s the poor? Jesus isn’t talking about people with no material wealth, though He does want them to hear The Gospel. He’s talking about people with no spiritual wealth. Who’s that? People who realize they can’t please God by what they do, they have nothing to give Him. So repent; be poor in spirit. Confess you can give God nothing, you cannot please Him without His help. Confess you do not deserve paradise of the blessed. Be truly sorry for your sins and say: “Stir up Thy strength, O Lord, and come and save us!” He loves to hear those words. He wants to stir up His strength and come to save you. Why? Because that’s what He did 2000 years ago. That’s what He did when He put on our flesh in The Virgin’s womb. That’s what He did when the holy God actually became a Man just like us except without sin. He stirred up His strength and came to save us. He is called Jesus, “The LORD saves,” because He is The Lord God Who saves by His Death. He looks so weak and powerless there on The Cross, but faith believes that in reality He is being stronger than anyone has ever been by actually being punished for all, ALL, the sins of the world, yes all your sin, my sin, all our corruption. He was punished there for it all! That’s God’s strength in action, working to save us!
But He wasn’t done stirring up His strength. For He stirred it up again when He rose from the dead. His “It is finished” proclaims that sin is all paid for. His Resurrection proclaims that our sins are forgiven and that our death is dead. Sin and death can no longer hold us. He proved too strong for them. He did this not for His own sake, but for YOU! He was punished for YOUR sin. He died YOUR death. Since He is risen, since He has defeated them, they can no longer claim you for hell.
So He has stirred up His power to come and save you. But His power isn’t all that pretty. After all, they went out into the desert to see someone dressed in camel-hide who ate locusts and honey, someone who didn’t get to wear luxuriant clothes in the palace but who knows what in the dungeon beneath. Jesus doesn’t come to you with big miracles and He doesn’t ask you to get worked up so you think you’ve been raised up into His presence. He doesn’t come to impress the high and mighty, who certainly don’t like to see Him ride donkeys.
How does He come? THIS is how He comes. He comes to you on the lips of preachers who proclaim His Word, His Law and Gospel. To put it in Reformation terms, since we’ll celebrate the 500th anniversary of The Reformation this church year, He comes when His preachers proclaim God’s Word and Luther’s Doctrine pure, which unto eternity shall endure. The voice may be easy to understand or hard. The minister may not be all that pretty to look at, and you may not always like how he’s dressed, but he dresses and talks the way he does to show you that he’s not the one acting. Christ Himself is; the minister is simply here in His stead and at His command. So He comes in His preached Word. He comes to convict you of your sins with His Law. He comes to pardon your sins with His Gospel.
But that’s not the only way He comes. He comes in lowly, material forms. Many don’t believe it, but it’s true. He comes, riding down on the waters, comes to pardon sins and give eternal life in Holy Baptism. There He speaks His Name over us to brand us with it, to declare He owns us, not the devil, to declare we are dear children of His heavenly Father and He is our dear Father too. Many deny it; they try to make it a mere sign that we are loyal to Him. But no, it is His sign to us that He is loyal to us!
He comes to us in the words of Absolution. Confess your sins to Him, confess them to someone, like your pastor, whether at the beginning of The Service or even in private where you can confess certain sins by name that are bothering you, and hear the words He speaks to you. In those simple words, “I forgive you all your sins,” Jesus really is forgiving you, pardoning you, relieving you of your burdens. He has sent you His ministers to do just that, John 20, even though many are quite surprised and offended by this.
Finally, He comes in a very lowly way to you at this Altar. Many have said this can’t be because it makes no sense and make it something else that shows we’re loyal to Him. But He says it, so we believe it. It is His last will, The New Testament, no lies allowed. He declares bread to be His Body and wine His Blood, the very things He sacrificed for you on Calvary. He wills that when you eat and drink His Body and Blood in true faith you receive what He won for you there: forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. So eat and drink. Do not be offended by Him. Come to Him and receive the medicine that heals you, that forgives you, that quickens you unto life everlasting. For here The Lord stirs up His strength and comes to save you. And then . . . Rejoice!