Third Sunday in Advent – Luke 7:18-28 | Messengers from John the Baptist
Advent and Christmas, for all the joy they bring,
Almost always manage to be disappointing somehow.
Your kids aren’t going to make it home this year.
Time and money are tight.
We’re only at the pink Sunday, and you’ve already put on 7 pounds.
Maybe we’ve built it up so much that nothing could meet our expectations.
Maybe we’ve asked for too much.
Maybe our Christmas lists are too precise to be satisfied.
There was a year in middle school when I asked my parents for a basketball.
Sure there were other things I wanted, but that was the big thing.
And so, as Advent passed slowly by, I kept my eyes peeled.
My parents stacked presents under the tree progressively,
And so every day I would be there inspecting the wrapped boxes.
Some of them were too small.
Others were too big.
One was obviously a baseball bat.
Some looked like strong candidates
And so I held on to hope.
When Christmas morning finally came and we arrived home from Church,
I tore open box after box hoping again and again that I would be wrong;
That an NBA certified basketball would be inside.
To compare that Christmas to the expectation and hope of John the Baptist,
Seems absurd to anyone except a boy in middle school.
But there is much of the same sense.
All John wants for Christmas is for the Christ to come,
So he has been asking his heavenly Father to please send him.
And he has every reason to expect that promise will be fulfilled.
After all, it was just last week, as you remember,
That the word of God, God’s own speech,
Came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
“Get ready, everyone.
Repent and be baptized! Jesus Christ is coming to town.”
It’s the voice of a prophet.
Yes! And more than a prophet.
John is not shaken by winds;
He stands firm.
Neither is he dressed in fine clothing in a real king’s courts;
Instead he is dressed in camel hair, and sits in a fake king’s prison.
It is both trite and an understatement to say that its been a long Advent for John.
Like me, and perhaps like you, he has been gazing under the tree,
Looking for some reliable evidence that Jesus is who John proclaimed Him to be –
The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
From a prison cell, Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan seems like a long time ago.
It makes me wonder just how clearly John remembers it:
The voice of the Father as the clouds broke – what did He say?
The Spirit descending as a dove – whom did He fall upon and remain?
Even more recent events aren’t consolation.
Our Gospel text began this morning:
“The disciples of John told him all of these things.”
Those things the disciples of John told him include:
The raising of the widow’s son at Nain,
The healing of a Centurion’s servant,
The casting out of demons, and the curing of many diseases.
I shouldn’t have to say this, but raising the dead is kind of a big deal.
Nevertheless, John sends them back for more.
“Please, just tell me.” John says.
“Are you He who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
“Because Herod keeps asking me what God is doing in my life,
And frankly, I’m not so sure.
In fact, it seems as if there’s just a bunch of things He’s not doing.”
What is God notdoing in your life?
Are you lonely?
Are you afraid?
Are you getting sued?
Are you struggling to make ends meet?
Are you sick?
Are you just plain angry?
And while we’re at it,
Have you been that way so long you can’t even remember why anymore?
Aren’t you wondering when God is going to start doing something in your life?
And wouldn’t that make for a pretty good Christmas?
I wish I could give you all the things you want.
Whatever you may think, no pastor likes seeing his flock deprived of anything:
Health, wealth, happiness, or anything else.
Sometimes it’s tempting to think that if the pastor were more like Jesus,
Not just in capability, but in desire, that he’d at least try to fix that stuff for you,
With good advice, clever counseling, or just plain doing what you ask.
But Jesus doesn’t seem to think that’s very good pastoral care at all.
Consider how He shepherds John.
All John asked for was a yesor a no.
And if yes, maybe a jailbreak would be in order as well.
But Jesus, as the Good Shepherd and overseer of our souls, answers better.
He won’t just give John miracles.
You’ll remember that John already knows about the miracles.
And so Jesus doesn’t send the disciples back to tell only what they saw,
But what they heard.
Jesus points John back to Scripture.
“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 Good News preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.”
He quotes the Word of God given through His prophet, Isaiah.
And so He shows John that the miracles aren’t for show;
Neither are they an end in themselves.
They are the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy, the promise of God’s Word delivered.
Now, in his life and soon in his death, the Word of God must be enough for John.
And we know from his martyrdom that it was.
In the same way, the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is sufficient for you.
Like some gifts He does not come wrapped so neatly,
And so a glance and a shake of the box don’t reveal a whole lot.
For all we’ve done to build up the picture,
When Christmas comes He won’t look like much; just a Baby.
On the cross, He would look like even less.
The Tree of Life would not be decorated according to our preferences.
The angels will not sing, but weep;
Shepherds and magi will be replaced by scoffers and murderers;
And all the promise that the Child once had will seem to have faded away.
Jesus will not look like the greatest in the heavenly Kingdom, but the least.
But then, that’s exactly how He wants it.
Maybe you will get exactly what you want for Christmas.
Maybe God will do in your life just the thing you have been hoping for.
And maybe not.
Regardless, if the only gifts are the ones received now,
Then we are not guilty of having asked too much, but too little.
God will, in fact, make every single wrong wright.
Every anxiety will be soothed.
Everyone who has been falsely accused will be vindicated.
Everyone who has been lonely will enjoy a community and a love beyond compare.
Every sick person will be healed.
And the dead raised imperishable.
Until then, until the final Christmas,
When Christ comes for the last time,
Jesus would have us live and die faithfully clinging to what we have seen and heard.
And so He gives us even now a taste of all our hope’s fulfillment.
The wrapping is not much to look at, to be sure.
And yet this Holy Supper is Christ’s sure and certain Gift to you here and now.
So receive Him whom John proclaimed here and now;
The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
Blessed is he who takes no offense at Him.