Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Sunday in Advent

Third Sunday in Advent (C)
The Baptism of Paul Michael Smith
December 13, 2009
Text: Luke 7:18-35

Beloved in the Lord, last week John came preaching repentance. We should prepare the way of the Lord, he declared, which means that we should cast aside our sins and whatever falls in the path of the Lord, whatever prevents us from receiving Him. We should cast aside our sin and our own self-righteousness, and turn to Jesus Christ alone for forgiveness. The season of Advent is a season of preparation for the reception of our coming King, Jesus Christ, and so it is a season of repentance. But today, while the story of John continues, we see the fulfillment of John’s preaching. Our Lord Jesus is on the scene. He must become greater, while John becomes lesser. This morning the Scripture lessons bid us rejoice, for our Lord Christ has come. Last week we heard John’s preaching of the Law loud and clear, that there is no good in us, that we are by nature sinful and unclean. This morning we hear Christ’s preaching of the Gospel: He is Himself our righteousness. He comes with healing in His wings. He comes to give life to the dead and preach the Gospel to the poor. He comes to forgive our sins and give us eternal life.

This morning John points his disciples and us to Christ, and this is cause for great rejoicing. The traditional name for the Third Sunday in Advent is Gaudete, Latin for rejoice. We have reached the mid-point of Advent. The fast is almost over. Christmas is almost here. This time of repentance and preparation is about to reach its goal. There is an air of expectation. We can hardly wait for the celebration. Like children eager to open our presents, we can hardly wait to bellow those Christmas carols and feast around the family table. That is why the liturgical color of the day today is actually rose. We don’t have the rose paraments, because they cost so much for only one Sunday a year, but we do have the rose candle on the Advent wreath. It says that something is different about this Sunday. The Scripture readings proclaim it, too. St. Paul writes in our Epistle lesson: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4; ESV). The Prophet Zephaniah exhorts the Church in our Old Testament lesson: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!” (3:14). Why? Because of the Gospel: “The LORD has taken away the judgments against you… The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst; you shall never again fear evil” (v. 15). We rejoice in the Introit, for Jesus Christ is our help and our hope. “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God” (Ps. 146:5).

Yes, this morning, on this Gaudete Sunday, John points us to Christ. John sends his disciples to Jesus with a simple question: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:20). It is rather unlikely that John asks this question either out of doubt or ignorance. Surely John knows who Jesus is. John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. John had a front row seat when Jesus came up out of the water and the Holy Spirit descended on Him as a dove and the Father declared from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (3:22). John declared concerning Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). John preached Jesus Christ! John knew there was no other coming One, no other Messiah, no other Christ of God. But John’s disciples do not know this. John’s disciples are confused. Jesus does not fit with their preconceived notions of who the Messiah should be and what He should do. Jesus is lowly. He comes from a carpenter’s family. He is rejected by the Scribes and the Pharisees. The Messiah is supposed to be a Priest and King. Yet this Jesus is a poor man from Nazareth. And after all, can anything good come out of Nazareth (John 1:46)? And He hangs out with the commoners, the tax collectors, the sinners. Can this really be the Christ? Surely the Christ would come into Jerusalem like a white knight on his trusty steed, a mighty army at his command, and he would show those Romans a thing or two about majesty and dominion. But here is Jesus. He has “no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him” (Is. 53:2). He doesn’t look like a King ought to look. John sends his disciples with the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?,” that they may see for themselves, with their own eyes, and hear for themselves, with their own ears, right from the Messiah’s mouth.

It is not insignificant that upon hearing their question, Jesus does not immediately answer, but that “In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight” (Luke 7: 21). And then, after John’s disciples witness the miracles, He turns to them and says: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the good news preached to them” (v. 22). He is saying to them, “You know the Scriptures. Compare what you see me doing and hear me teaching with what the prophet Isaiah said: ‘The Spirit of the LORD GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening up of the prison to those who are bound’ (Is. 61:1). ‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a dear, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy’ (35:5-6). Yes, I AM the One who is coming! Rejoice and be glad. John is not the Messiah. I, Jesus, am the Messiah, God in the flesh, come to save His people from their sins!”

Beloved, this news causes us also to rejoice. Jesus comes to us with the same healing, and He comes to us preaching the same good news. Certainly the physical healings Jesus performs are signs of the spiritual healing He grants to all who believe in Him. For us who are born spiritually blind, He opens our eyes, that we may see Christ crucified as our only Savior. For us who are spiritually deaf, He opens our ears, that we may hear the Word of life and believe it. For us who are spiritually lame, unable to do any good work, for everything we do by nature is sinful, He raises us up that we may be His own and live under Him and serve Him in His Kingdom by serving our neighbor in love. For us who are spiritually mute, unable to speak the things of God, He opens our lips and fills our mouths with His gracious Word. For us who are spiritually leprous, the deadly disease of sin eating away at us, He makes us clean with His own cleansing. For us who are born spiritually dead, unable by our own reason or strength to believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him, He grants us His Holy Spirit, who calls us by the Gospel and enlightens us with His gifts in Baptism and the Supper. And the poor have the good news, the Gospel, preached to them. Who are the poor? You saw the perfect example of the poor in little Paul Michael, who was baptized into Christ this morning. An infant has nothing to offer God to merit salvation. An infant is helpless, poor, relying only on the mercy of others. When Jesus speaks of the poor, He is not speaking only of those who lack riches or possessions. He is speaking of the spiritually poor, those who recognize that they have no good within themselves, nothing to offer God to merit salvation, but are only poor, miserable sinners. We must all be infants before God, totally helpless, able to offer Him nothing but our dirty diapers, our sin and uncleanness. If you confess that about yourself, you are the spiritually poor. But this is good news. The Gospel is for you. Your sins are forgiven. Just as surely as Paul Michael’s sins were washed away this morning in Holy Baptism, so you have been washed clean in the blood of Christ. You who know yourself to be spiritually blind, deaf, lame, mute, leprous, dead, are the spiritually poor who are made rich in Christ, the Son of God.

Of course, not everyone rejoices at this news. Therefore Christ says, “blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Luke 7:23). Blessed is the one who is not offended, who does not stumble over the lowly appearance of Jesus. Blessed is the one who does not stumble over His teaching. Blessed is the one who does not stumble at the cross. The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves (v. 30). So do all unbelievers. They neither heed the preaching of repentance, nor do they regard themselves as poor. They do not rejoice. And they will not rejoice. They will perish in hell. But for those who look at Christ crucified as the perfect sacrifice for all their sins, as their only Savior, as their very life, there is nothing but good news. They live by His wounds. They live by His death. Not offended by this horrifying sight, they find that only in the death of the lowly Jesus of Nazareth, true Son of God, is there resurrection from the dead, and healing from every dread disease. And this is cause for great rejoicing.

Therefore, beloved in the Lord, rejoice! “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Phil. 4:4). For Jesus, the promised Messiah, has come. The One the prophets foretold has come to be your Savior, to die on the cross for your sins, to be raised for your justification. He has ascended into heaven, yet He still comes to you in His blessed Word and Sacraments, to heal you and forgive you all your sins and strengthen you for your daily life in this fallen world. And He will come again, to judge the living and the dead, and to deliver His saints, the poor who believe in Him, to everlasting life with Him in the bodily resurrection from the dead, in a new heavens and a new earth. Yes, rejoice, believers. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything. Your King comes to you. Place everything in His almighty and pierced hands by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:5-7). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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