Advent 3 - Gaudete: the Sunday of John in Prison
Delivered By
Pr. Mark D. Lovett
Delivered On
December 13, 2015
Central Passage
Matthew 11:2-10

In the name of the FATHER and of the + SON and of the HOLY SPIRIT.

Who wouldn’t want a Jesus to come in like a knight in shining armor and save the day? Who doesn’t want a Jesus to conquer money problems and financial problems and work problems? Who doesn’t want a Jesus to fix family and relationship problems? A Jesus to vindicate us before others, even when we lie just to be right; or who will pacify our enemy and give us some peace? Who wouldn’t want a Jesus to stay the hand of the Jihadist or the greed of the IRS or silence sthe rhetoric of those who would enslave us?

We all want such a savior, such a Jesus. We all want such a God. We all want such a church; one that fills our need for emotional highs and good-ol’-fashion American spirituality; one that gives and gives and gives but demands nothing. One that gives good feelings but never demands blood-letting loyalty. One that talks about a wonderful God but never imposes the life-saving cross. We want a God and church that is there when we need it but silent when we don’t want it.

But thanks be to God in our Lord Jesus Christ that that’s not the God or the church we get.

History has shown, even biblical history, that those who want such a God, such a savior, such a church, are on the losing side of orthodoxy; the losing side of right worship. They sound pious and look good, but in the end they fall away.

Remember the crowd that the Lord fed with a few loaves of bread and a few small fish? They ate their fill. They were satisfied. So they wanted to make the Lord king! But when He told them about the necessity of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, when the Lord made the way narrow and difficult it says that many of them fell away.

How many prayers ascend for comfort and for ease of pain or ease of stress or ease of heartache. Yet how few prayers ascend for perseverance and for faith.

That is what St. John the Baptist teaches us today; what he wanted for his followers and for himself. He wanted to be given the strength of faith to persevere. Your comfort, O Christian, is not in this life. Your comfort is in the promises of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ our Lord. He promises life and salvation. He promises eternal life. And in that eternal life there will be none of these miseries or woes. There will be no tear shed in heartache or in backache. There will be no killings, no bills to pay, no lies. There will be no sin in us to harm others or in others to harm us. That’s the promised land for which we strive, for which we yearn. We long to be in the Promised Land, the heavenly Jerusalem.

But if our eyes and wills are focused so much on this world – on what lies around us – then this is our inheritance and we will be scandalized by Jesus. If John had focused on what lay around him, the prison cell and the executioner’s sword instead of on the deeds of the Christ, then John would have been scandalized and would have fallen away. If we focus on what lies around us, on our troubles and pains, and if they have the last word over us, then the deeds of the Christ seem shallow and we are scandalized by them. But if we press on toward the goal of the upward calling, to persevere to the life to come, to be content with that life and that promise, to be comfortable with our heavenly Father’s provisions for this life, be they many or few, then we are truly blessed. Then, in a way that only makes sense in the light of the kingdom of heaven, then we can actually find comfort and peace even now as John found in prison when he heard the deeds of the Christ. For who has more reason to be scandalized by Jesus than John had? The forerunner, the greatest of all prophets, the greatest born among women. Yet he sat in a madman’s prison for the sake of the gospel.

Our comfort and peace, our contentment and rest comes from the promises of God in Christ, from the heavenly places and from eternal life. So it outshines and outlasts any fleeting misery or woe we have now, just as the comfort the Lord gave to John in prison outlasted the prison walls and looked forward to the resurrection.

For what can be taken from us that God cannot restore? What can be lost to us that God cannot find? Nothing. For all things were made through Him and for Him and by Him who is the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, our Brother and Redeemer; our Champion.

That is why the Christian prays daily, evening and morning. Not the on-the-go prayers of the frantic, the fearful, or the skittish, but the confident prayers of the blessed. Not prayer dictated by the god called “time” who never has enough to give, but the prayers that bring time into submission of the faith. To sit and pray, to pray the psalms and reciting the faith in the Creed, to worship our Father in the Lord’s Prayer, even when we sit in prison and in the shadow of death. This is a life run by the gospel. To pray for those who persecute you; to love the poor and those who hate you and misuse you and abuse you. To love the unlovable and to forgive the unforgivable. To make peace with the violent and to speak kindly to the unkind. To point to the Lord Jesus and say to others, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” these are the marks of a life run by the gospel, a life run by the promised inheritance of eternal life.

To have a balanced budget is not. To have full pews or well built buildings is not. The beauty of the Church, her adornments, are the sacraments; the preaching and teaching, the prayers, psalms, and the hymns of the Church; these are the well-built building.

We hear a lot these days about radicalized Muslims. But what of the radicalized Christian? The radicalized Muslim is the one that plots and plans and carries out the will of Allah, which is to destroy everything and everyone because Allah’s real name is Satan. So let us learn from the heathen even as our Lord says that the sons of this age are more shrewd in dealing with themselves than the sons of light. Let us learn what it means to be radicalized. To plot and plan and carry out the will of our Father. But our plotting is to simply teaching our household the Small Catechism and read the Bible with them, teaching them daily prayer. Our planning is to be ready in season and out of season to give a defense of the hope that is in us; to love all people and to do them good. Our planning is to give our money as an offering so that the preaching and teaching of the gospel will continue. If you give money to help the budget then thank you, for by your vote you’ve promised to do so. But let’s make sure the budget is in service of preaching and teaching, the true beauty and needs of the church.

The will of our Father, Jesus says, is to believe on Him whom He has sent. The radicalized Christian prays and attends the Lord’s gathering. As a result, the Christian then gives to the poor and loves his neighbor. Those are fruits. They are not the vine. Christ is the vine.

The Lord Jesus doesn’t have flash and flare by the world’s standards and many are scandalized by His deeds. But He is the One to come and we shall not wait for another. He comes with the medicine of immortality. He comes to set the prisoners of sin and hell free; to loose the bonds of slavery to sin and death that you may be free indeed: free to worship Him without fear, holy and righteous in His sight all the days of your life.

Here He comes. By His word. His word that fills your ears and swells your heart to call upon Him who is your Lord and God.

+ In Nomine Iesu +