‘Comfort for the Comforter’
Gaudete, the Third Sunday of Advent | December 12th, 2010
Advent tells a story. Really, the Gospels in the season of Advent tell as story, but we miss it. I’m guilty of this, too; I think of each Sunday of the church year standing alone, completely disconnected from the last Sunday and the next Sunday, but when we have these very distinct seasons, like Advent and Christmas, Epiphany and Lent, we can see how the readings work together and tell a story.
Now, in Advent the story, the theme, is the coming of our Lord Jesus. He comes to us continuously in the humble instruments of the Word and Sacraments. That’s Advent 1. He will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and usher in the resurrection and the new creation; that’s Advent 2, last week. And our Lord Jesus came, promised by the prophets, born in Bethlehem, all the things we celebrate at Christmas.
The last two Sundays in Advent are preparing us for this, the celebration of our Lord Jesus’ first coming, His coming as our brother to redeem us and save us, His coming in our flesh. And who better to hear from than John the Baptist? That, after all, was John’s vocation: to prepare the way for the Lord. In many ways, then, Advent is the season of John the Baptist, and even though he wasn’t mentioned in the readings for the last two weeks, he is mentioned in the proper preface for Advent, as well as many of the Advent hymns, the Old Testament lessons hint at his preaching. The first few Sundays of Advent are prepping us to hear from John the Baptist.
And even more when we come into the church today and see the decorations, and see that we have lit the pink candle (or rose, I guess, is the official color), and that this Sunday has the Latin name Gaudate, which means joy, rejoice. We’ve sung three hymns about John and his preaching, and now were ready.
“Give me the Baptist, Preacher.” (This is what you’re supposed to be thinking. I’m putting ideas into your head so that I can, in a few minutes I can contrast them with the text, and then have a dramatic entry point for the thrust of the sermon, but that’s a secret.) “Give me the Baptist, Preacher. Give me John with locust legs hanging out of his mouth, fearlessly standing up to the Pharisees and religious rulers calling them to repentance. Give me John in the wilderness, calling out the elite and prideful as hypocrites. Show me John calling the most important people of his age a nest of baby snakes, a ‘brood of vipers’. Show me John in the river, with all of Jerusalem coming to him to be baptized for repentance, for forgiveness. Let us see John in his finest moment, the day after he baptized our Lord, standing in the water and pointing at his cousin Jesus, and preaching one of the finest sermons ever mouthed, ‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.’ Or tell us about John, who with the courage and gumption of one of the prophets of old, stood up to Herod and preached against his adultery. Preacher, give us John the Baptist.”
It is incredible to me, that of all the fantastic exploits of John, all his courageous preaching of both law and Gospel, that when he finally breaks on to the scene in Advent he’s not at his typical pulpit on the Jordan’s Banks, but in jail, awaiting execution, questioning his own preaching. And then, if this isn’t enough of a surprise, the text gives us, not John preaching a sermon about Jesus, but Jesus preaching a sermon about John. What are we supposed to make of this? Let’s look at the text.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Are we troubled by this, that John has questions, even doubts about Jesus? Almost all the prophets, from Moses to Elijah to Jeremiah had their doubts, their questions. This does not mean that it is okay to doubt, that it is acceptable, just that it happens. The devil and the world and our sinful flesh are constantly tempting us to doubt. Perhaps there is some comfort for us in this, that if even John, the greatest of the prophets, doubted, then my doubt does not mean that the Lord has rejected me.
But if we take some comfort in John’s doubting, then we must certainly look at what John does. He sends his disciples to Jesus to answer his questions, to replace his doubt with faith. This, dear saints, is a wonderful and blessed example to follow. When we have questions and doubts and fears we turn to Jesus. John teaches us to pray. “Jesus, I’m afraid.” “Jesus, I have questions.” “Jesus, I believe, help my unbelief.”
And Jesus, how wonderful, strengthens the faith of John by pointing to His deeds.
And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Now these miracles of Jesus are not just ordinary miracles, but they are miracles promised by the prophets, miracles that the Messiah, the Coming One, would preform. Jesus points John to the Scriptures for the strengthening of his faith. “Faith,” after all, “comes from hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:11)
So the Lord Jesus, with His sermon, strengthens the faith of John the Baptist, and then, as his disciples are leaving, He strengthens the faith of the crowds gathered there.
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’”
Jesus preaches about John, but not really. “This is the one you were looking for,” Jesus says, “The one who was to announce the coming of the Messiah.” And, dear saints, if that’s who John is, then we know who Jesus is, the Coming One, the One promised from of old, the King and the Messiah and the Savior, our Redeemer. We know this from the Scriptures, from the Lord’s Word.
Jesus does not go to John and show him a miracle, he sends the disciples with the word. Jesus does not preform a miracle in front to the people to prove who He is. And the same thing happens again and again in the Gospels. Remember when Jesus is walking with the disciples on the road to Emmaus (after His resurrection), and they had lost their hope and their faith, and Jesus, instead of saying, “Hey, guys, it’s me; I’m alive!” He hides His face and opens the Scriptures, showing them in Moses and the prophets all the things the Messiah had to suffer before He entered into glory. Why does He do this? Why go through all the trouble? Why not just go and see John and give Him proof that He’s the Messiah? Why not just show Himself to the disciples instead of taking all this time to teach the Scriptures? The reason, dear saints, is that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have ordained it that faith comes not through seeing, but through hearing.
Thousands upon thousands of people saw Jesus preform His miracles, but very very few believed in Him and followed Him. But blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believed. That’s you and I. Here is where the real comfort is. We have the Lord’s Word, the words of the prophets and of the apostles. And in the midst of all of our troubles and doubts and questions, the Lord’s Word is hear to cast away doubt and give us faith, faith that Jesus is who He said He was, God in the flesh, and that He has done what He said He would, redeemed us from sin and death and won for us salvation and everlasting life.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Hope Lutheran Church | Aurora, CO