candles_12245cnAdvent 3, 2016
December 11, 2016
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
Psalm 146:1-10, Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-11, Matthew 11:2-15

Has it ever gotten so dark for you that it was hard to see Jesus?  It is hard to live in the darkness; the darkness overwhelms the light and threatens to snuff it out.

You are a baptized child of God.  You have the light of Christ.  In Christ you are the light of the world.  You have the light and yet the darkness comes.  You can almost feel the darkness as it rolls into your life like a thick fog.  The darkness of grief and depression rolls over you and makes it hard to see Jesus.  The darkness of illness and suffering pushes into your life.  The darkness of death comes suddenly to take away loved ones and leave you reeling in the gloom.  The darkness of addiction and sin creeps silently into your life trying to extinguish the light of Christ.  For many, the darkness of confinement in jail or prison or a nursing home or even your own home can be a deep gloom that overshadows everything in life.  Sometimes it gets so dark that it is hard to see that Jesus is the one who has come to save you.

Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?  Is Jesus of Nazareth the one?

John the Baptist knew Jesus was the one when John was a six month old fetus in his mother’s womb and he leaped for joy at Jesus’ presence inside His mother Mary who came to visit.  John the Baptist knew Jesus was the one when John said, Matthew 3:11 (ESV) 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”[1]  John the Baptist knew Jesus was the one when John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  John knows Jesus is the one and yet, in our Gospel reading today, we find John in prison sending messengers to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”

John is in a dark place in his life.  John believes that Jesus is the one, but the darkness is starting to make that hard to see.  John is literally sitting in the darkness of Herod’s dungeon and the darkness is starting to overwhelm the light of faith.  Every time John hears someone coming and the door opening he doesn’t know if it is just someone bringing food, or someone bringing freedom, or someone bringing a sword to cut off his head.  John is in a very difficult, dangerous darkness and he wants reassurance from Jesus.

When we are trapped in the darkness of life we can find that it is hard to see that Jesus is the one.  Like John, we want reassurance.  “Are you the one or should we look for another?”

Jesus sends a message of hope.  Matthew 11:4-5 (ESV) 4 …“Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”[2]

Jesus is the one who is to come even in the darkness of John’s imprisonment.  Jesus is still the one to come even in the darkness of your trials and troubles; your doubts and despair.  Like John, we have the record of Jesus’ miraculous restoring of the blind and the deaf.  Cleansing of the lepers.  Raising of the dead.  But not only do we have that, we also have the eyewitness accounts of the greatest miracle; Jesus rising from the dead.  We know that Jesus is the one because He died on the cross that Friday on Calvary and rose from the tomb on Sunday morning.  Jesus conquered death… for you.  Jesus is the one to come and give His life as a sacrifice for your sin and to rise again to give you eternal life.

This is the good news that we hear in the darkness of this life as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.   This is the Good News that we hear even when Jesus seems far away.

In the darkness of John the Baptist’s prison cell Jesus must have seemed so very far away; but the darkness is not evidence that Jesus is far from John.  Jesus’ promises are still very much in place.  Jesus’ promise of eternal life still holds firm for John in the darkness.  It still holds firm even as John loses his head to Herod’s henchmen.  Matthew 10:28 (ESV) 28 …do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[3]  Jesus’ promise to John is still good even when things do not go as John wants them to go.

God does not always act the way you want him to.  He does not always remove you from the darkness of life, but rather is there, with you, in the darkness.

Even in your greatest darkness you can declare, “I am baptized.”

As Jesus reassures John that indeed He is the one to come He adds one more statement.  Matthew 11:6 (ESV) 6 “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”[4]

Very often, Jesus does not act the way you want him to.  He does not remove you from the hard things of life.  He does not eliminate evil.  He lets good people suffer while wicked people prosper.  This is not how you would do things, but God doesn’t act the way you want him to act.  God does things that you would never do.  God threatens to send unbelievers to hell.  This is very difficult; why does God let anyone go to Hell?  Why doesn’t He get rid of Hell altogether?

People say things like, “I can’t believe in a God who would send someone to Hell.  I can’t believe in a God who would allow this person I love to die.”  “I can’t believe in a God that doesn’t do things the way I want them to be done.”

Basically we are in the same place as John.  We want Jesus to come in great power and glory and destroy evil forever; rid the earth of disease and death.  Take from us depression and sinful temptations.  We want Jesus to do what we want Him to do.

And indeed, Jesus is the one who is to come, and He will one day return in glory and destroy evil forever and rid the earth of disease and death, but we still live in the time of now and not yet.  Jesus has come; He has taken the sin of the world upon himself but He has not yet returned in glory to destroy evil and restore the kingdom.

For now, like John, we trust in the Lord knowing Jesus is the one even when life is spinning out of control.  In the darkness of life you still have the light of the world shining in the gloom.  In His time of ministry Jesus was a humble teacher.  He did many of his miracles quietly without making a big show of it.  Jesus is the one who is to come, He is the Messiah; the Christ, but He is a humble, serving Christ.  In many ways Jesus comes as a hidden Christ with His glory concealed in his humility.

Seeing baby Jesus laying in the manger you would not first think, “This is God with us.”  Seeing Jesus with His disciples you would not first think, “This is God Almighty.”  Seeing Jesus hanging on the cross you would not first think.  “This is God in flesh.”  Jesus is not the God that people expect and because of that, many are offended.  Many resent that Jesus is not the Jesus that they want him to be.  Jesus may not be the Jesus you want Him to be, but Jesus is the Jesus you need Him to be.

American prosperity pastors preach about how Jesus wants you to have your best life now and how, as Joel Osteen tweeted recently, “When you have the boldness to believe big, to ask big and expect big, that’s when God is going to show out in your life.” This kind of preaching of the American dream is all a big pile of steaming fertilizer.  “You have to have the boldness to believe big?”  Tell that John the Baptist sitting in Herod’s dungeon.  Tell that to the dying man in hospice.  Tell that to the person struggling with addiction.  Tell that to the one battling depression.  Tell that to the one enveloped in darkness.  What a crock of man-centered, fabricated theology.

Jesus is indeed the one who came for you.  Even in your darkest days Jesus is still there for you.  He is with you through the darkness.  Here in the darkness of the season of Lent we light the pink candle to remember the joy we have in the Lord.  Jesus comes to you in the waters of Holy Baptism and in the promise of your baptism. Even in your greatest darkness you can declare, “I am baptized.”  Jesus comes in His word of cleansing, “I forgive you all your sins.”  He comes in His Body and Blood to strengthen and preserve you to eternal life.  Jesus comes to you in the darkness with the promise of eternal life in His light.  In Christ you have joy in the darkness.  Amen.

[1]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[2]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[3]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

[4]  The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001

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