Third Sunday of Advent | Gaudete
The Third Sunday of Advent has historically been called “Gaudete.”
It’s gets that name from the first word of the Introit we sang this morning: “Rejoice.”
Rejoice because of God’s righteous acts!
Rejoice because of His mighty deeds!
And, now, this morning, rejoice because we draw one Sunday nearer to Bethlehem,
To the manger, and to this Child, born of Mary.
That call to rejoice is also why the candle turns a rosy color today.
It’s what you get when you take the traditional violet color of repentance for Advent,
And mix it with the brilliant white of Christmas:
But, as it is on Gaudete Sunday, things are not so rosy for the Baptizer.
Despite the rigors of a very long Advent, John has stayed the course.
He has been faithful to His task, and steadfast in His proclamation.
He would not let Israel’s sins go un-repented,
He would not let Israel’s people go unwashed.
He would not look the other way when Herod took his brother’s wife,
Even when everyone else did.
And so while the Pharisees are out playing in the fresh air and the breeze,
John is stuck in prison because he would not be moved by the winds that move them.
He will not go with the flow.
He will not compromise.
And why should He?
He is the greatest of all the men born of woman.
He is the prophet par excellence.
He is even the one called upon to baptize Jesus Himself.
For now, though, John must be content with preaching to prison guards and inmates;
At least until Jesus comes to free Him –
And all of Israel, as well.
Which should be happening any time now…
Any day now…
Any week now…
In light of the apparent delay,
It would be easy for John to be offended by Jesus.
After all, he has done everything asked of him.
He has prepared God’s people.
He has spoken truth to power.
He has decreased so that the Christ might increase.
He has suffered for the sake of the Gospel;
And this is what he gets.
Jesus goes on preaching in the cities,
And he rots in a prison cell.
It’s like a bad joke.
John was born to prepare God’s people for their King,
But now he awaits death in the dungeon of a tyrant.
And so “Offended” is a great word
To describe the feelings and actions John’s situation might provoke.
Especially because, in such a case as this,
Being offended would also be a get-out-of-jail-free card.
If John would only be offended by Jesus, he could begin to bend and compromise.
If John would be a little offended by Jesus, he could get over his outdated view of marriage and just let Herod do what he wants.
If John would be even a little offended by Jesus,
He could blow in the breeze with the other reeds,
And he could look the other way at sin and darkness.
If John would only be offended by Jesus, his persecution might end.
If you were here last week, you should remember that Advent is not a time of waiting, but of preparation.
So to prepare you for Christmas, Jesus’ question –
For you and for John the Baptist is this:
Are you offended?
Practically everyone is offended or triggered by something nowadays.
So what about you?
Are you offended by Jesus.
Does He offend you?
The Baby in the Manger treads rather softly, of course;
And that’s actually one of the great things about Christmas.
He’s so gentle that it’s difficult to imagine the little Christ Child offending anyone.
The coos and gurgles of a baby just don’t do that.
As it goes with most children, though,
It isn’t long before baby-talk becomes grown-up talk.
And grown-up talk isn’t always so pleasant.
Grown-up Jesus will tell you that you are blind to His ways,
Deaf to His voice, Poor in faith, and dead in sin.
Grown-up Jesus will say that you think about money more than you should,
And even that you keep too much for yourself.
Grown-up Jesus will tell you to love some people you don’t even like.
Grown-up Jesus says you have some problems trusting Him.
This may offend you.
In many ways, being offended by Jesus could make your life a lot easier.
Like John, being offended by Jesus could save you from trouble and persecution,
And keep you from losing friends.
Being offended by Jesus could free up some time in your calendar and in your budget.
Being offended by Jesus could even make you feel smarter and more cultured.
Being offended by Jesus means you can also be offended by me, and the Word I preach.
As He said: “He who hears you, hears me.”
It can happen in other ways, though.
You might be offended when Jesus does not behave the way you expect Him to.
Case in point: not only does Jesus let John remain in prison;
But He allows him to get his head chopped off on Herod’s birthday,
And then served as a party favor.
It’s not all that different for you.
There are, no doubt, some things you would like Jesus to rescue you from as well:
From grief, anxiety and loss,
To pain that seems to have no purpose;
From an apparent disruption of your plans and dreams;
To the very real possibility that your life won’t end up the way you’d hoped.
And if it seems that the rescue is delayed or even cancelled,
Then it can feel as if Jesus is either trying to offend you,
Or, worse, He just doesn’t care.
So it might come off as cheap when, in the midst of all sorts of pain,
Jesus says something like, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me.”
He does not care for you any less than He cares for His cousin, John,
Who would really like to see things going differently;
Who would like to see his disciples return with Jesus in tow, and not just a message.
But that message is enough.
Because the report that the blind receive sight,
And the lame walk,
That the lepers are made clean,
That the deaf hear and the dead are pulled up out of the grave,
That the poor having the Gospel preached:
That report means that Isaiah’s prophecies are being fulfilled.
That Jesus is the one John was looking for.
That Advent really is ending.
And God’s Kingdom has come to earth.
It means that He really does care.
It means God cares enough about him and everyone else,
To join us here in this broken world,
So that we could join Him in His new creation.
When I first began writing this sermon, I thought that it would be a really nice and convenient turn of phrase to wrap all of that up by saying,
“Jesus isn’t offended by you.”
I even wrote it down and circled it.
But that’s wrong.
Jesus is offended by you.
The word He uses to say so is one that I think you’ll recognize.
We translate it as “offense,” but in Greek it is σκανδαλισθῇ “scandalized.”
That’s what the cross is.
That’s where Jesus is caught up in your scandal.
For every time you were scandalized by Him and His Word
His preachers, and His Church,
His Name, and His Gifts,
His Love, and His Discipline;
For all the times you were offended, embarrassed, or scandalized by Him,
He is scandalized by you.
On the cross, Jesus has your scandals and offenses heaped upon Him.
There He is scandalized, offended, and crucified, by you and for you;
So that you would be free from scandal, free from shame, and free from offense.
Jesus doesn’t care about you any less than He cares for John.
And so He has brought you here to receive the same report.
You were blind, but Jesus has given you eyes to see.
You could not walk to Jesus, but He has come to you.
Like lepers you were unclean; and so He has washed you in Holy Baptism.
You were deaf to His voice, but He has given you ears to hear.
You are the poor and needy, and you will remain so;
That you would always have Christ’s Good News preached to you.
Blessed are you who are not offended by Him.