Advent 3 – St. Luke 7:18-28
Jesus is here; John the Baptist knows that. Before either of them were even born, John leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth at the mere sound of Mary’s voice. 30 years later, John was there when the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove at His baptism and a voice from heaven said: This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him. Later John told Peter and Andrew that this Jesus was the very Lamb of God.
This is the one whom John had declared would come with the winnowing fork in His hand; who would separate the wheat from the chaff; burning that chaff with an unquenchable fire. This is the one whom John had proclaimed would rend the heavens and descend with great power and glory.
This one, whom John had foretold, is now here.
And yet John sits in prison, knowing that it is only a matter of time before Herod sentences him to death.
John sits in prison while Jesus goes about proclaiming the Good News of the kingdom of God to all people. Which is great! But is also a far cry from rending the heavens and bringing judgment on those who do not believe, and everlasting glory to those found to be faithful.
Is this really how it is supposed to be?
And so some 2000 years later, you would think things have improved a little bit; but have they?
Jesus is here; you know that. You gather here week after week after week and hear the words of the Lord that judgment is coming soon; that there will soon come a day when the righteous and the unrighteous will be separated; and those who have cursed God and rejected His words and His ways will be condemned; and those who are found to be faithful will receive the glories of everlasting life.
You come here week after week and are told that the day of the Lord is at hand; and how there needs to be repentance of sins; how now is the hour when faith needs to produce fruits worthy of repentance.
You gather here and receive the body and blood of Christ, and are told that soon you will not receive just a small foretaste, but will sit at the banquet of the Lamb in Paradise. You witness countless baptisms, and are reminded of your own baptism, and you hear the promise again and again of eternal life for all who believe.
And yet, what is going on around you? (What do you Quinn have to look forward to in this new life of faith that you have entered into this morning?)
Are you in prison like John? No; at least not in a prison with chains and bars. But one could not blame you if you were to look around and ask yourself that question sometimes. What once was a land at least favorable to the practices of the church, is now decidedly unfavorable. You see a land where the mere mention of the name of Jesus causes great conflict both near and far. You see a land where there is no repentance and even less faith.
And that is to say nothing of what Christians elsewhere face. How many nations are there where it is illegal to confess the faith? How many nations where the church is all but gone? How many times do you turn on the news and see another story of how Christians are being persecuted for their faith?
Where is the long promised reward for you who are faithful? Where is the son of David reigning on His throne? Where is the restoration of the kingdom? Where is the joy that you have heard of?
Is this really how it is supposed to be?
Is this really what John proclaimed on the banks of the Jordan? Is this really what you hear each Sunday morning in this place? Is this really what it means to have the Lord in our midst?
Is this Jesus really the long promised Messiah, or are we to look for another?
Needless to say, many have determined the answer to be no. Life is still difficult; people still suffer; the judgment has not happened; all hope is gone.
It is not clear who initiates the question of Jesus identity; is it John who sits in prison awaiting an execution, looking out at the world? Or is it his disciples, confused by the words they have heard and the realities they now see? But for all intents and purposes, the question is really our question: is this the one who is to come, or should we look for another?
And yet, what is the response that Jesus offers to those who come seeking answers?
The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.
What is different? What has Jesus brought? What has He shown as evidence?
Jesus brings hope to those sitting in darkness.
Today, the words of Zephaniah are brought to bear – The Lord is in your midst. And yes, one day that means that judgment will be rendered and sheep and goats will be separated; but today, it means there is hope for those in darkness.
Jesus brings hope. He brings hope to John the Baptist sitting in prison that his efforts, and his eventual martyrdom will not be in vain. He brings hope that for those who have for so long read the prophets and the psalms in anticipation of one coming who will restore the people before God, that their faith has not been a lost cause. He brings hope that for the blind and the deaf and the sick and the dead, their afflictions are not permanent, but that there is one who comes with healing and restoration.
Jesus brings hope to you today that your labors are not in vain; your prayers do not fall on deaf ears; your suffering is not alone; that your faith is not empty words and promises, but that you are indeed living in the sure and certain hope that the Lord is in your midst.
And Jesus brings hope for those still sitting in darkness. He brings hope that the Day of Judgment is not yet; that there is still time to repent and be baptized and believe in the one who has come into the world to save us from our sins.
And Jesus brings hope that He will come again in glory, when He will indeed judge the living and the dead; when He will indeed separate the wheat from the chaff; when the chaff will indeed be burned with an unquenchable fire.
The words and promises of John the Baptist will indeed come, as will the words that you hear today; that the Lord will come with angels and archangels to judge the living and the dead; and to call to Himself all who make the confession that Jesus Christ is Lord.
But today, the message is one of hope; that as you sit in the darkness of sin and death, there is a Savior who comes and brings the light of life. Today the message is one of hope, that as you anticipate the great day of the Lord, that the Lord is indeed already in your midst. Today, the message is one of hope, that no matter the trials and tribulations of the world, our Savior has already overcome the world.
(Today is a message of hope for you Quinn, that today in the waters of Holy Baptism, you have received the promise of life eternal.)
Today, and every day, we live in the certain hope that this Jesus is the one whom we are seeking, for He is the one whose words offer hope to all.