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Advent III, December 17, 2017 - St. Matthew 11:2-10

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Posted: Friday, December 22nd, 2017 by Pastor Westgate

They should have rejoiced. It had been 400 years since there had been a prophet, since Malachi concluded his prophecy with the words you heard last week. He foretold the coming of another angel of the Lord, not an angel like Gabriel, yet a messenger of God. “Angel” means “messenger.” John, like Malachi, was sent with a message: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” He is coming!

They should have rejoiced. They did not. The leaders of the Jews were mad. They were mad John was pointing out their sins. They did not want to repent. What made it worse was the people they despised were repenting. Tax collectors, prostitutes, Roman soldiers, the common people at large – they all were coming to John to be baptized. They all wanted the forgiveness of sins. They all desired to do better. And their leaders hated every second of it.

But they weren’t the only ones who did not rejoice. John’s own disciples did not rejoice. Some did follow Jesus. Many of His Apostles started out as disciples of the Baptist. But many did not follow Jesus. Even after John was martyred some still did not follow Jesus – St. Paul ran into disciples of these people in Ephesus.

They were not rejoicing. One time they complained to John that Jesus was baptizing. He was stealing all John’s thunder, they thought. They couldn’t bear to see their leader reduced to nothing. They wanted all Israel to flock to him. They hadn’t heard a prophet since Malachi, so they wanted to hang on to this one with all their might. But John had no such desires.

Finally he was put in jail. He’d made a practice of preaching to the reigning Herod, and the royal family wasn’t happy about it. After all, he was preaching against them for sexual immorality: this Herod had married his sister-in-law, who left his brother for him. Soon she would get his head on a platter.

John knew his end was coming soon. He was decreasing because Christ was increasing. He was the forerunner. He was leading his Lord forth into death, but he would not lead him into the resurrection. No, his risen Lord will someday raise him from the dead instead. So he sent his disciples to him. In that dark dungeon he surely needed the comfort that his ministry and death were not in vain. At the same time he wanted his disciples to rejoice: The Christ is surely come. He wanted them to let him die in peace and hear and follow Christ.

He sent them to Jesus to get them to rejoice. He told them what they were already hearing. The blind were receiving their sight. The lepers were getting cleansed. The deaf were starting to hear. The dead were actually being raised to life. The poor are being evangelized. This all should have told them He is Christ. No one had ever done works like these, nor has anyone done them since. Only God can do them. This Man Jesus is The Son of God. He has taken on our flesh. He has done this in order to forgive your sins. Rejoice!

Are you rejoicing? John’s disciples should have been rejoicing, but they weren’t. We might quickly, “Yes, I’m rejoicing! Christmas is coming! Why wouldn’t I be rejoicing? The decorations are pretty. I love shopping for gifts. I love getting gifts. I can’t wait for the big meal, decorating – if I haven’t already, the kids are so excited, I get time off school. What’s not to be happy about?”

There are plenty of reasons to feel down this month. We got a Christmas letter from my uncle and aunt last Monday. In it admitted a lack of joy. Why? Because both her dad and my uncle’s dad, my grandpa, died early this year. There may be other reasons for no joy: you can’t give as many gifts as you wish, your employment isn’t quite what you’d like, you wish you could be with family but won’t be, your health isn’t what you wish it was. And of course, there’s always the weather; it may be pretty, but it can also lead to accidents.

What can we say? Where can we find comfort and joy? Where is comfort and joy when everything seems dark and dreary? Do we find it in hopes and dreams of a better 2018? No, because those hopes may get dashed. We don’t know how next year will turn out; it may not be as good as we’d like. Where do we find comfort and joy?

Find it here: The poor are evangelized. They have the Gospel preached to them. We are the poor. Jesus isn’t talking about our economic status. He’s talking about our spiritual status. The Christian realizes he has nothing apart from Christ. His possessions, his family, his very life comes from Him. More importantly, his salvation, your salvation, comes from Him.

Your salvation comes from Him. We are poor in spirit because of our sins. Our sin has made our hearts dark. That means all life is dark without Him. This is a darkness no one can escape, a darkness far worse than what we feel this time of year. It’s a captivity to doing what is evil. Slaves might be able to escape their masters, but we cannot escape this darkness on our own. It’s like that darkness of night or a superstorm, when the power’s out and you can’t see anything so you can’t help but stub your toe, walk right into a door, and otherwise get hurt. Impatience and fear set in until finally the lights turn back on, not by your own power, but by the electric company or the sun coming out.

Only the Lord’s gracious visitation brings light to our darkness. Only His coming can show us the way out of captivity to salvation. The Shepherd of Israel Who leads Joseph as a flock, Who sat between the cherubim of the Ark of the Covenant, has shined forth and stirred up His strength to come and save us. He has taken up residence in the Virgin’s womb. God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God became a Baby Boy. He grew up and marched to The Cross.

There darkness seemed to reign. It was darkness’ hour and its power. For all darkness converged on God. The sun did not shine; the earth trembled and shook. The Son of God drank the chalice of God’s wrath for sin down to the very dregs. He suffered hell itself as He bore your sins and the sins of all the world in His Body.

But darkness gave way to light. The earth trembled and shook as light broke forth from the grave. He is risen from the dead and defeated death and sin. He proclaims to you what He has done. He forgives your sins. He gives you everlasting life in paradise of the blessed, yes, even life after death, life after the resurrection of your body. Though you deserve nothing good from Him, He gives you every good gift.

Life in this world is not always happy. Don’t think that means God doesn’t love you. Were that the case, Jesus would have said so. His life was not full of happiness. His life was full of sorrow, the sorrow of rejection, of poverty, of a ministry that looked unsuccessful. He entered into His joy when He rose from the dead.

So it is no different for you. We do not enter into eternal joys now. In this life we have trouble and sorrow. It is with much tribulation that we must enter the kingdom of God, the Apostles teach. For you are united to Christ. Your joys are yet to come. Therefore rejoice now. Rejoice that this earth’s troubles cannot last, that they are just a momentary affliction. They must pass away. For Mary’s Baby Boy is risen from the dead and brought life and immortality to light by the Gospel.

Categories: Pastor Westgate's Sermons

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