Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent 3 December 11-12, 2010 Sermon

Advent 3
Matthew 11:2-11
December 11-12, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

John had stood in the wilderness with his unbending ethic and boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah. He had pointed at Him and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” The only way lambs take away sins is by being sacrificed. He did not point and say, “Look, it is Santa Claus and he doesn’t care if we’ve been naughty or nice. He never gives coal. He is magic and wants fat, little children to have lots of toys.” Instead John says, “Look: the Lamb of God! He will be roasted on a spit, consumed in His Father’s wrath, the key of Hell’s evil desires, for sins He did not commit, for you sins. In this way He will take away your sins and open heaven to all believers.”

Then John infected Our Lord with our sins. He poured the filthy baptismal water into his ears, nose, and eyes. He made Him swallow it. John anointed Jesus for death. He marked Him with our filth. For this Lamb, upon whom the Holy Spirit descended in visible form and with whom the Father proclaimed Himself well-pleased, is also the scapegoat who will be exiled and forsaken. He is the incense. The aroma of His burning blood will please the Father. He is the priest who performs these duties for the people and for the Gentiles. He is the mercy-seat who shields us from the Law. He is the Redeemer. He sells Himself into slavery as a ransom. He is the Lamb of God. He takes away the sins of the world.

Then John finds himself in Herod’s dungeon. He has stepped on the wrong toes. His fierce law preaching needed an exception for powerful people, but there was none. The Law always accuses, always kills, is always hostile to sinners. John could have lied. He could have spun it. He could have pretended there was a royal loophole, but he didn’t. He told the truth. John then becomes a lamb, about to feel the consequences of wounding Herod’s pride. He is more than a prophet, and straddles two worlds, but he will not live to see that which the prophets longed to see, which he himself foretold: the Lamb of God lifted up from the earth, the redemption of the world.

Does this fill him with fear and doubt? Some are quick to say that it could not be. John is not a reed swayed by the wind. He is the greatest of those born of women. But we can only say such things of John if we are speaking of his new Adam apart from his old Adam. The new man, the one who arose clean and justified from the waters of Holy Baptism, does not sin or doubt. But John had not yet been transferred to glory. He was both old and new Adam, struggling against his fallen flesh, even as he preached for all people to struggle. For that is what it means to repent and John is the epitome of a repentance preacher.

Faith is not the absence of doubt. Such absence belongs only to the dead, in either kingdom. Here on earth, whether we are old man and new man, redeemed by Christ, or unbelievers with only the old man in us, doubt is always part of us. Faith is not the absence of doubt but the mastery of doubt. The new Adam in the baptized says, “I believe” even as the old Adam whispers, “maybe not.” Faith then speaks: “I believe, help my unbelief.” Faith subdues doubt. Faith acts and confesses despite it. In this, faith is not much different than its kin-virtue courage which acts despite the presence of fear.

It is not doubt, in any case, that sends John’s question to Our Lord. It is faith. Faith desires to hear the Word of the Lord. Faith seeks comfort in the only place comfort exists: in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. To think that this comfort was only for John’s disciples thinks too little of John’s faith and of the comfort Our Lord provides to those who suffer on His behalf.

Like a child asking his mother if she loves him, John asks, “Are you the Coming One or do we look for another?” He knows the answer but wants reassurance, wants comfort.

So Our Lord says, “The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. But all flesh is grass cousin. It withers and fades. It dies. I am the Coming One. But I am not coming to you. You are more than a prophet and I am leaving you in prison. Your illnesses will not be healed. You will not behold miracles. I am the Coming One, the Messiah, the long-expected Hope and Consolation of Israel, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, for you. But I am not coming there, to the dungeon, to rescue you from your martyr’s fate. For you are a stiff reed, John. You will not bend and your faith has consequences. The winds of Edomite impenitence and greed will snap you in two. But your faith will see you through. Your iniquity is already pardoned. You are more than a prophet. By violence, your warfare will end. You will come to your reward. I will gather you to Myself. You will find soft, radiant clothing in a King’s house called by your own name. You will sit at the banquet table with your fathers. Washed in My Blood, Herod cannot kill you. Do not be afraid. The blind see. The lame walk. The lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear. The poor have the Gospel preached to them. And the miracle you get is the most significant of all: the dead are raised. The old Adam will be left in the grave. The final victory bestowed upon you and all who believe in Me.”

In + Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Advent midweek 2 sermon

Advent Midweek 2
Jesus, Born to Be God’s True Son, Israel, for Us
Matthew 2:7–18

Jesus is fleeing. He flees not for Himself, but for us. Christ fled the slaughter of Herod to keep His holy life until the fullness of time, when He would take the punishment for our sins. Christ fled to bring forgiveness to the land of Egypt, which once enslaved Israel. He fled that He might give us faith who often flee. He flees not through weakness but that weakness might become strength.

Yet this weakness must have brought sorrow to Mary and Joseph. The visit of the Magi of Persia gave them joy, a joy reflected by the richness of the gifts of the Magi to the child. But their joy dissolved into fear when they learned that the Magi had attracted the attention of murderous Herod. The angel says, “Flee! Flee this very night. Take the child and His mother out into the dark and make for Egypt. Save the child from Herod. Don’t turn back to gather your cloak. Go now!”

Joseph could have questioned the angelic messenger, “What do you mean, ‘flee’? I thought you said that this child was to save His people. Why should we be afraid of Herod then? Why should we flee from his wrath? If this child cannot save His mother and me, why should we think that He could fulfill the promise that He would save His people? If He cannot save Himself, how can He save others?” Yet Joseph said none of this. He, accepting the Word of the Lord, left that night, without being certain when he might be able to return to Judea with his little family. What sorrow this must have brought the Holy Family.

The Holy Family is not unlike our own. Our lives, too, are punctuated by joy and sorrow. No life is always joyful and happy. No life is always sorrowful and bad. The Christian is seeking to make sense of both the joy and the sorrow. Often the sorrow sent by God in bearing the cross leads to greater joy through growth in faith and confidence in His mercy (Psalm 126:5).

So it was for the Holy Family. Yes, Mary and Joseph sorrowed over an “unplanned” pregnancy. Yet, when the Lord told them what this meant, Mary with faithful acceptance whispered, “Let it be to me according to Your word” (Luke 1:38). When directed to take his family to Egypt that very night, Joseph did it. What they didn’t see was the bigger picture. They had only a slight idea of why God was doing all this. They had the messianic hope of course, but, like all of us, Mary and Joseph only made sense of their sufferings in retrospect; Mary “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

The bigger picture is what matters. If the Holy Family had not fled, Jesus would not have gone into Egypt to reclaim the nation that expelled holy Israel at the time of the exodus. The land of the pharaohs, the land of slavery, would have been left to languish in the shadow of death. Instead, the Messiah returns where God was rejected and comes to a people that shut its heart to His servant Moses. The land where the water ran blood red was now to be cleansed by the Son of God, who would shed His blood for that cleansing. The land was purified when the foot of the Son of God walked its fertile valley and its burning desert sands. The horror of the night flight from Herod’s slaughter dawns into a glorious day of salvation for a land mired in darkness and the shadow of death. The Wisdom of God, who became incarnate of Mary, trumped the wisdom of Egypt. The Christ Child had visited the land of the Gentiles. Often, our sorrows lead to the dawning of the light of Christ among us.

In sorrow, Jacob had long ago gone into Egypt for salvation from famine (Genesis 46). He would settle there for “only the Lord knows how long.” He was no more certain of the time of his return than Joseph. Yet, he was certain that God would fulfill His promise to him that he would inherit the land promised to Abraham and to his seed forever. So certain was he of his inheritance from the Lord that he gave instructions that his earthly remains were to be laid to rest with his fathers, Abraham and Isaac. He would go up out of Egypt even if in a funeral procession. Jacob, like Joseph, walked by faith.

The Lord built Jacob into a great nation in Egypt, and that nation took his God-given name. His sons became Israel. Moses led the sons of Israel out of Egypt by passing through the Red Sea on dry ground. And four hundred years after going down into Egypt, the nation of slaves went up out of Egypt to take possession of their inheritance from the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The people left behind ruthless enemies and hardened opponents of the Lord, whose bodies washed up on the shore of the Red Sea, drowned by the Lord. They were left to their frog-faced gods of wood for salvation.

But God’s heart still yearned for fellowship with those who hated Him and sought to thwart His ways and destroy His people. He still loved those who served the frog-faced gods of the Nile Valley. The Lord was not done with these depraved worshipers of other gods. He would not abandon them to death and darkness. The Lord was going to do all He could to bring new life into the valley of the shadow of death and light to the land of darkness. He sent His own Son to Egypt.

Jacob went into Egypt a free man and Jesus returned as the servant of all. Jacob went because he had no choice. Jesus went though He could have chosen not to go. He had come to do the Fathers will. Israel, who was subject to none, became subject to Pharaoh. Jesus, who was master of all, fled before Herod. He who would save all people refused to save Himself. He trusted Himself to His heavenly Father, who used the humble means of His earthly family to rescue His Son. He became the new Israel, the perfect case of “déjà vu all over again.” He has done all things well.

Just as Jacob went down into Egypt to become Israel, the Son of God went down into Egypt for the same reason. But when Israel was called out of Egypt, Israel was reluctant, a skeptical, a rebellious subject. It failed to be what it was called by God to be, but wandered in the wilderness following its own blinded dictates. God had rescued it. Now it was going to find its own way. The people rebelled against Moses and, having been rescued from the tyranny of the frog-faced gods of Egypt, created their own tyranny in a calf-faced god. The Egyptians were certainly not going to have anything over the Israelites! They salivated for the flesh-pots of Egypt and choked on manna sent by God.

Jesus, who went down into Egypt, was called out of Egypt as the true Son of God. He returned as the truly faithful Son where Israel once rebelled, wandered, worshiped false gods, and starved. He had come to do the will of God. He had come to walk in the ways of the Law. He had come to be the very bread from heaven. He Himself was manna made flesh. He was the thirst-quenching water from the rock, so that whoever drinks of Him will never thirst.

He takes Israel’s desecrated mantle and becomes the Son whom God loved. In this way, He becomes the remaking of Israel in His own person. He is the substitute for all Israel. He incorporates into Him all who believe in Him. We who believe have become beloved sons of God, the true Israel. We, who pass through the Red Sea on dry ground by Baptism, become incorporated into Him who is the true Israel and, sharing in His exodus, enter the Promised Land with Him. We cross the Red Sea of death in His path from Egypt, where once the hard-hearted pharaoh and all his soldiers were drowned. Now, however, He leads all of Egypt in triumphal procession through the water, leading them on from death to life. He is leading captivity captive, that we Gentiles who died with Pharaoh’s chariots and horsemen might be led through dry ground unto life in Him. Egypt, who once expelled Israel, now follows the new Israel through the water that makes all, both Jews and Gentiles, Israel in the beloved Son whom God called out of Egypt.

Jesus flees into Egypt that He might lead many sons out of Egypt through the Red Sea on dry ground. He flees that we might not. Jesus is born to be God’s true Son, Israel, for us.