Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Rev. Todd Peperkorn
Advent 3C (December 16, 2012)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ. Our text for today is from the Gospel just read from St. Luke chapter 7. We will also be looking at the words of St. Paul from Philippians chapter four.
Hear again the words of Paul in Philippians four:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4–7 ESV)
Always. Rejoice in the Lord, always. Really, Paul? Really? Always is such a big word. You are calling me to rejoice while I am in prison, waiting to have my head chopped off for speaking the truth to King Herod? Paul, I think you’ve lost it.
Always. Rejoice in the Lord, always. Really, Paul? Always is such a big word. You are calling me to rejoice when my child has just been killed in Newtown, Connecticut? Paul, I think you’ve lost it.
Always. Rejoice in the Lord, always. Really, Paul? Always is such a big word. You are calling me to rejoice with so much death all around us, so much heartache and fear. Fiscal cliffs and frightened children. There are more problems in this world now than there ever were. Paul, I think you’ve lost it.
You have to admit that Paul’s words sound a little delusional sometimes. I think this is why I like John the Baptist more than Paul. John asks Jesus the question, “Are you the coming one, or shall we look for another?” That’s John’s question. John sends the question to Jesus through his disciples. John, is currently stuck in prison, awaiting his execution because he spoke the truth to King Herod. Telling the truth to people in power is dangerous business, if the truth isn’t something they want to hear.
John, you remember, is Jesus’ cousin. He has gone into the wilderness to preach the Gospel. His whole life has been spent leading up to Jesus’ day. Jesus has been baptized, and has begun His ministry of proclaiming release and forgiveness to a lost and dying world. John was the one, when he saw our Lord, who pointed to Him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”
At this stage in Jesus’ ministry, by all accounts, things are going well. Jesus has forgiven sins. He has cast out demons. He has healed the sick. He’s even raised the dead! All in all, things are looking up for our Lord.
But there’s one thing Jesus hasn’t done. He hasn’t released John from prison. There’s John, the forerunner. He is the greatest of those born among women. Surely he deserves to be at Jesus’ side, ruling alongside our Lord as He comes into His kingdom! But no. He’s stuck in prison, wondering if this whole Messiah thing is really that great of an idea.
I don’t think we can blame John a whole lot for this question, “Are You the coming one or should we look for another?” John, I think, might have asked that same question to St. Paul. Really, Paul?
Christianity is, perhaps as much as anything else, all about waiting. Faith is about anticipation. Faith is about looking to what we cannot see. Faith is about recognizing that things don’t make sense, that they may never make sense, but that God will carry us through to the end.
It is impossible to think about John waiting in prison to die this week without thinking of the parents of these poor children who were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut. What are those parents thinking right now, as they look to Christmas? One of the little girls killed in was a member of the local Missouri Synod congregation. They had just joined the church.
So if you put yourselves in the position of those parents, we have to admit that it is hard to recognize the good in the world. That’s John the Baptist right there. That is John saying to Jesus, “Lord, I know your promises. I’ve read my bible. I know all the words. But get on with it, for heavens sake! We’re dying here left and right. We’re broken. We need you.”
John is you and I, here. But truth be told, so is St. Paul. Remember that when Paul wrote those words from before, the “Rejoice in the Lord always”, remember that Paul was in prison in Rome at the time. He was waiting to see if his head would be chopped off just like John the Baptist’s was. So when Paul writes these words, He is not doing so as a Pollyanna. He is not just being the eternal optimist, always finding good even if there isn’t any to be found. No, what Paul is saying is NOT “be happy,” but “rejoice.”
Rejoice in the midst of hardships. Rejoice in the midst of trials. Rejoice even, yes, even in the midst of death itself. How can this be? How can there be true joy in the midst of such things? Perhaps Zephaniah can help us here, from our Old Testament reading,
“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17 ESV)
Rejoicing, both here, for John the Baptist, for St. Paul, and for you and I, rejoicing doesn’t mean being happy. It means recognizing that what you see and experience now isn’t the whole story. Let me say that again, because it’s important. Rejoicing means recognizing that what you see and experience now isn’t the whole story. Only God has the whole story. What’s more, the story ends not with John’s head, or St. Paul’s, or the little ones who died in Bethlehem, or the little ones who died Newtown, or anywhere else. The story doesn’t end with death. Or sorrow. Or suffering. Or heartache and hardship. The story ends with resurrection.
Resurrection, you say? That’s an Easter word! We can’t talk about that during Advent. Well, we can and we will. Advent is about our Lord’s coming, after all. It is about His coming in lowliness as a little child. It is about His coming hidden under Word and Meal, Water and Forgiveness. And Advent is about His coming again in glory on the Last Day to raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. That means on the Last Day He will raise John the Baptist, with his head. And St. Paul. And the little ones of Bethlehem and of Newtown. And your loved ones and me. And it means He will raise me and you.. And on that day there will be no more sorrow, no more tears.
There will only be a joy completed, fulfilled by communion with Him forever. It is no accident that Saint Paul says we are to lay our requests before our Lord with Thanksgiving. That’s Eucharist, friends. That’s the Lord’s Supper. For wherever that Eucharist, that Great Thanksgiving is, there we have a glimpse of angels and archangels, sinners and saints redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. Today we receive a foretaste of the great Rejoicing to coming.
But until that day of ultimate joy, dearly baptized, until that day we rejoice in the Lord always. We do this because He rejoices over you. He will quiet you with His love. We rejoice today because God holds all things in His hands. And beloved, that is a very good place for everything to be.
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
And now the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, to life everlasting. Amen.