The Third Sunday of Advent
Pastor George Pejakovich
Matthew 11:2-11

JUST LAST WEEK WE HEARD ABOUT HOW JOHN THE BAPTIST CAME OUT OF THE WILDERNESS PROCLAIMING WITH GREAT POWER ABOUT THE IMMANENT COMING OF THE MESSIAH. THOUSANDS CAME TO HEAR HIS MESSAGE AND REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED. HE FEARLESSLY CHALLENGED THE RELIGIOUS LEADERS, AND TOLD THEM THAT THE ONE WHO IS COMING WILL BAPTIZE WITH FIRE AND TAKE AN AXE TO THE DEAD WOOD OF FALSE RELIGIOSITY. WHEN JESUS CAME TO HIM TO BE BAPTIZED JOHN KNEW THAT HE WAS IN THE PRESENCE OF THE MESSIAH. HE EVEN POINTED JESUS OUT TO HIS OWN DISCIPLES, SAYING, “BEHOLD, THE LAMB OF GOD.” SINCE THEN, MUCH HAS HAPPENED. JESUS HAS CALLED HIS DISCIPLES AND BEGUN HIS MINISTRY. JOHN HAS BEEN ARRESTED BY HEROD BECAUSE HE KEPT TELLING HEROD IT WAS IMMORAL FOR HIM TO HAVE TAKEN HIS BROTHER’S WIFE FOR HIS OWN. NOW HE PACES ALONE IN HIS DARK CELL, VISITED FROM TIME TO TIME BY HIS DISCIPLES WHO BRING HIM FOOD AND NEWS OF THE WORLD BEYOND HIS CELL. HE PACES AND HE WONDERS; IS JESUS THE ONE WHO WAS TO COME, OR DID HE GET IT ALL WRONG? THE FEARLESS MAN OF GREAT FAITH IS IN DOUBT, SO HE SENDS HIS DISCIPLES TO ASK JESUS IS HE THE ONE, OR SHOULD WE WAIT FOR ANOTHER.

JOHN’S PROBLEM IS THAT HE HAS BEEN HEARING WHAT JESUS HAS BEEN DOING, AND IT JUST DOESN’T FIT HIS PRECONCEIVED IDEAS ABOUT WHAT THE MESSIAH SHOULD BE DOING. SINCE JOHN PROBABLY CAME OUT OF THE ESSEENE COMMUNITY AT QUMRAN, HE WAS STEEPED IN THE VISIONS OF THE CONQUERING MESSIAH OF THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS, WHICH ACCOUNTS FOR THE APOCALYPTIC NATURE OF HIS CALL FOR REPENTANCE. HE THOUGHT THE ONE HE PROCLAIMED HAD COME IN JESUS, YET THE ROMANS ARE STILL HERE, THE RICH CONTINUE TO OPPRESS THE POOR, NOTHING SEEMS TO HAVE CHANGED, AND HE WHO ONCE PREACHED TO THOUSANDS NOW SITS IN JAIL WONDERING WHEN THE AXE WILL FALL ON HIS NECK. HE WONDERS HOW HE COULD HAVE BEEN SO WRONG, SO HE SENDS HIS DISCIPLES TO FIND OUT.

IN LUTHER’S OTHERWISE MASTERFUL SERMON ON THIS TEXT HE, (HOW CAN I PUT IT?), GETS IT WRONG. HE PRESUMED THAT JOHN SENT HIS DISCIPLES TO JESUS SO THAT THEY WOULD TRANSFER THEIR LOYALTY FROM HIM TO JESUS. JESUS, HOWEVER, SENDS THEM BACK TO JOHN WITH HIS ANSWER, WHICH IS NOT A DIRECT ANSWER AT ALL, BUT A SUMMARY OF THE WORK OF THE MESSIAH. “GO AND TELL JOHN WHAT YOU HEAR AND SEE: THE BLIND RECEIVE THEIR SIGHT, THE LAME WALK, THE LEPERS ARE CLEANSED, THE DEAF HEAR, THE DEAD ARE RAISED, AND THE POOR HAVE GOOD NEWS BROUGHT TO THEM. AND BLESSED IS ANYONE WHO TAKES NO OFFENSE AT ME.” IT APPEARS TO ME THAT JESUS IS TELLING JOHN THAT PERHAPS HE SHOULD RECONSIDER HIS SENSE OF WHO AND WHAT THE MESSIAH IS. JOHN’S PROBLEM IS THAT HE HASN’T RECOGNIZED WHAT JESUS IS DOING AS MESSIANIC BECAUSE HE HASN’T BEEN TAUGHT TO SEE THESE THINGS AS SIGNS OF GOD’S PRESENCE. BECAUSE HE DOESN’T SEE THE GLORY, HE DOUBTS THE GRACE.

IT IS A GOOD THING TO PONDER JOHN’S DOUBT, ESPECIALLY AT THIS TIME OF YEAR. WE COME EACH WEEK TO AN INCREASINGLY BEAUTIFIED SANCTUARY IN WHICH WE ARE MOVED BY THE SIGHTS AND MUSIC, AND, HOPEFULLY, THE HOMILY. WE COME LOOKING FOR AN EXPERIENCE OF THE LORD IN OUR MIDST, WHILE WE ANXIOUSLY WAIT FOR THE JOYOUS CELEBRATION OF HIS BIRTH. THIS WORSHIP EXPERIENCE, AS ARE ALL, IS A FORETASTE, A VISION, OF WHAT WILL ONE DAY COME IN A GLORIOUS FULFILLMENT. WHEN THE SERVICE IS ENDED, AND WE GO FROM HERE BACK OUT INTO THE WORLD, DO WE CARRY THAT EXPERIENCE WITH US? DO WE GO FROM HERE, RENEWED BY THE FORETASTE OF WHAT IS TO COME, TO LOOK FOR THE SIGNS OF THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD IN OUR DAILY LIVES? DO WE LOOK FOR THE GRACE OF GOD IN THE ORDINARY AREAS OF OUR HOME, OUR WORK, OUR ECONOMICS, OUR POLITICS, OR EVEN IN OUR DISCUSSIONS OF POLITICS? DO WE SEEK TO UNDERSTAND HOW GOD IS USING US AS VESSELS OF HIS GRACE IN OUR ROLES AS EMPLOYEE, PARENT, CHILD, SPOUSE, FRIEND, CITIZEN, AND VOLUNTEER, TO EXTEND HIS GRACE TO ALL AND TO CARE FOR HIS CREATION? DO WE SEE THE CHRIST OF GOD STILL DOING THE WORK OF THE MESSIAH, EVEN AS HE NOW WORKS THROUGH US? CAN WE SEE THE WORK OF THE CHRIST OF GOD OUTSIDE OF THE CHURCH? IF NOT, THEN WHAT WE DO HERE EACH SUNDAY IS REALLY MISSING THE POINT AND IS NOTHING MORE THAN AN EXERCISE IN FEELING GOOD FOR A WHILE. IF WE CAN’T SEE GOD AT WORK OUTSIDE THE CHURCH, THEN WE PROBABLY WON’T SEE HIM INSIDE THE CHURCH. IF WE ARE JUST LOOKING FOR THE GLORY, WE WILL MISS HIS GRACE.

WHEN JESUS SENT JOHN’S DISCIPLES BACK TO HIM, HE THEN TURNED TO THE CROWD TO TALK ABOUT JOHN. HE ASKED THEM WHAT THEY CAME OUT TO THE WILDERNESS TO SEE. DID THEY COME TO SEE THE GRASS BLOWING IN THE WIND, OR RICH FOLKS IN FINE CLOTHES? IF THEY HAD COME TO SEE A PROPHET, THEN, INDEED, THEY HAD SEEN ONE IN JOHN. THEY HAD SEEN THE FORERUNNER, WHO HAD COME TO PREPARE THE WAY OF HE WHO WAS TO COME. HE TOLD THEM THAT AMONG THOSE BORN OF WOMEN, NO ONE HAS ARISEN GREATER THAN JOHN THE BAPTIST. HE ESSENTIALLY SAID THAT JOHN WAS THE GREATEST OF ALL THE PROPHETS, BECAUSE, AT ONE POINT, JOHN ACKNOWLEDGED AND HERALDED JESUS AS THE MESSIAH. “YET,” HE CONTINUED, “THE LEAST IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN IS GREATER THAN HE.” EVERY FOLLOWER OF THE CHRIST IS GREATER THEN JOHN THE BAPTIST, BECAUSE WE, YOU AND I, HAVE RECOGNIZED IN JESUS’ ACTS OF RESTORATION THE HAND OF GOD TO HEAL, REDEEM, AND SAVE.

GOD WORKS THROUGH THE MUNDANE; THROUGH YOU AND ME. THIS IS WHAT THE CALL TO FOLLOW THE CHRIST OF GOD IS ALL ABOUT; TO BE, EACH OF US, CHRIST FOR THE WORLD. CHRIST FOR THE WORLD, NOT CHRIST FOR THE CHURCH. OUR MISSION IS TO BE CHRIST WHENEVER AND WHEREVER THE OPPORTUNITY PRESENTS ITSELF, AT HOME, AT WORK, ON THE STREET, AT A HOMELESS SHELTER. IN ALL OF OUR WEAKNESS AND VULNERABILITY, IN ALL OF OUR IMPERFECTIONS, WE ARE CALLED TO FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE ONE WHO CAME TO US AS AN INFANT, WHO WALKED AMONG US AS ONE OF US TO SHOW US THE LIFE OF THE KINGDOM, AND WHO WILL COME AGAIN IN ALL HIS GLORY. WE ARE THE SIGNS OF GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE WORLD. IF WE KNOW THIS, AND, BY THE GRACE OF GOD WITH THE HELP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, LIVE AS GOD’S PRESENCE IN THE WORLD, THEN, AND ONLY THEN, WILL WE SEE THE CHRIST OF GOD WITH US, IN US, AND AMONG US.

WE LIVE BETWEEN THE ADVENTS OF OUR GOD. THIS IS THE ADVENT OF GRACE, REDEMPTION, AND SERVICE, IN WHICH WE ARE CALLED TO LABOR WHILE THERE IS STILL LIGHT TO SEE GOD’S GRACE ACTIVE IN US AND THE WORLD. YET OUR LABOR AND FAITH IS STRENGTHENED BY THE LIGHT OF THE VISION OF WHAT IS TO COME; WHEN THE RANSOMED OF THE LORD SHALL RETURN, AND COME TO ZION WITH SINGING . . . AND EVERLASTING JOY SHALL BE UPON THEIR HEADS. AMEN

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