Third Sunday in Advent (2019)

Rejoice for Christ is judged for your sins and you are free in him.

We suffer in life so that we are evermore being knit together with one another and grown in our faith.

Suffering for a crime you didn’t commit is considered one of the worst experiences someone can go through. Emily and I went and saw the Mr. Rodgers movie, which was great, but in the previews we were shown a movie about an African American lawyer fresh out of law school in the 1980s who took it upon himself to go into the prisons beginning in Alabama and help free wrongly convicted black men. The movie is called Just Mercy and it looks like a great movie. The premise is part of what makes this such a great movie. That the innocent are treated as innocent and the guilty pay for their own crimes.

Today is rejoice Sunday. You’ve maybe noticed the candle we light today is pink instead of purple. Rejoice Sunday is a break in our somber advent reflections to remember that our advent frame of mind, that of repentance and making ourselves right to meet our Savior, is not how we will always be. When we die or Jesus returns, we no longer need to prepare ourselves to meet him. We will have run our race. Rejoice, your suffering is not long but short and what is it compared to the glory that awaits those who believe!

John the Baptist rejoiced when he first met Jesus, well, sort of. Luke says John jumped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary’s voice was heard. John was in utero and was given faith by the Holy Spirit. John hadn’t seen Jesus, he couldn’t he was still in the womb. John was still being formed and knit together grown by God until his birth. John heard, before he even saw, and he rejoiced.

Today our gospel reading is a little bit curious. Again, John is not seeing Jesus because John is in prison. But again, John hears, he hears about the deeds of Jesus. However, John isn’t quite ready to rejoice. It seems John is wondering what is going on with Jesus. Here John is in prison and perhaps he’s wondering if Jesus is the real deal. If Jesus is the Messiah why is he acting so un-Messiah like?

Are you the one who is to come or shall we look for another?

Matthew 11:3, ESV

John had been preaching and baptizing. His advent greeting was not happy advent, happy holidays or even merry Christmas. John greeted folks with a hearty, “Repent you brood of vipers.” John had put his life on the line for preaching God’s word. He is in jail for telling Herod to obey the 6th commandment and not marry his brother’s wife. Herod arrested John and now John knows what is possible to happen to him. He’s basically on death row for following the law. The innocent in prison.

So you can imagine John’s question, “Are you the one to come or shall we look for another?”

Have you every poured energy and time into a project at work or even maybe at home or church for it to just go unnoticed or even not appreciated? You work weekends, you give your time, you tell your kids you can’t play with them or go to a birthday party, you pour yourself into something and the boss says, “Toss it. No good, in fact, you’re off the project.” We think this may be part of the doubt rising in John’s mind in regards to if Jesus is truly the Messiah.

Look at what John had dedicated his life to. He preached repentance. He called folks out to the Jordan to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. He dressed in strange clothes. And what had all this got him? Jail and the murmurs that Herod’s illegal wife Herodias wanted him dead. Thanks a lot Jesus, if you are God you sure have a strange way to treat your best preacher. John had dedicated his life to preaching God’s word and look where it landed him.

There is a little comfort in these doubts of John for you and me. If John the Baptist sometimes wondered if God knew what he was doing, that means I’m in good company. You are in good company when you wonder, “Is God really helping me?” “Does God care?” “Is God there for me, because I sure don’t see him.”

Consider how Jesus addressed John’s doubts, the same way he brought John faith while they were both still in their mother’s wombs. Jesus preached the gospel to John, to knit him together, to grow him in faith, faith comes by hearting. Jesus announced to John while he was in prison, 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.

Jesus preached about his identity just as Mary did when she greeted Elizabeth and John was given faith by the holy spirit. “Tell John what you see…” Tell John. Not break him out of prison. Not pay his bail but preach to him. Tell him of the mighty works of God. So for you and me. We are still if you will being grown in our faith by hearing the gospel. We still need to hear of who Jesus is, because this is how the Holy Spirit works.

We are in good company with John when we wonder about Jesus, “Is he the one or should I look for another?” We ask that same question when life may not be going as good as we hoped. Is Jesus my God? Am I ready to endure all and suffer for the sake of Jesus? Even suffer for doing what is right…1 Peter 3 says, “But even if you should suffer for doing right, you are blessed.” John is suffering for doing right, are you willing?

Kind of interesting that Jesus says today, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” You can rejoice when you suffer, even if you’ve done nothing wrong. How is that for reason to rejoice on this Pink Candle Sunday? This is offensive to our flesh. We think we are innocent. We believe we don’t deserve any suffering but that is a lie. It is precisely what we deserve for our sins. But God doesn’t finally judge us as guilty for our sins, Jesus was judged for your sins on the cross.

Jesus didn’t throw John in prison because he had done anything wrong but precisely because Jesus desired to knit John together in faith even more. To grow him as a child grows in her mother’s womb. So too you and me. In this life we are grown to trust God all the more by suffering. The more we suffer the more glorious salvation will be when we see indeed Jesus is who he says he is!

John, rejoice. Why? Because Jesus is the promised one. Blessed are you John for you are suffering for doing right. Jesus will do offensive things. He will let you suffer. He calls you to repent. He will let you be defeated. But the most offensive of all in the eyes of the world, Jesus lets you off free from your sins. You who are guilty are freed! As if you have never sinned against God. The sinner forgiven. You released from your doubts and fears. Yes, this is already true for you today but you might sit in your prison with John a little while longer while Christ knits you together with each other. You helping one another and your neighbor. In Col 2 St. Paul tells the church, “hold fast to Christ the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

Rejoice, for your Savior comes to help you now through his word and sacrament. The same Holy Spirit that comforted and carried John in prison and in his mother’s womb comes to you. Not to make you acceptable to the world or help you make excuses, but to make new your hope. To knit you into his holy church. To re-new you in Christ’s baptismal promise of forgiveness. 

Even in all sorrows Christians do rejoice. Joy is confidence that God is taking care of things. Joy doesn’t leave us content with this life but content to have God’s promise of forgiveness and deliverance.

A great movie is when the innocent are freed from being wrongly convicted. How much greater is it when the guilty are declared innocent? Not even Hollywood goes that far. Christ confessed to your sins for you to go free. Christ is your advocate, he has come to your defense by his cross and baptizing you into his innocence. Though you may suffer, rejoice for you will see God’s faithfulness.