Joy In The Midst Of Sorrow
December 15, 2019 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Verse: Matthew 11:2–11:12
Christ Lutheran Church
December 15, 2019
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
Joy In The Midst Of Sorrow
Now when John heard from prison the works of the Christ he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you the One to come or should we expect another?" And Jesus answered them and said, "Go! Announce to John the things that you hear and see! the blind now see; and the lame now walk; the lepers are made clean and the deaf now hear; and the dead are raised up; and the poor have good news preached to them! And blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me.
Now when these disciples of John departed Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John. "What did you go out to the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? Not that? Then what did you go out to see? A man arrayed in soft clothing? Behold! Those who wear soft clothing are found in the palaces of kings. What, I repeat, did you go out to see? A prophet! No! I tell you. More than a prophet! This is he of whom it stands written, "Behold! I am sending my messenger in front of you who will prepare the road before you." Truly I tell you all, among those born of women there stands none greater than John the Baptizer. But he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he! (Mt. 3:2-13)
Today the church takes a breather from the season of repentance and inserts a Sunday of joy.
Joy in the midst of sorrow! Now there is a theme to remember lest the troubles of life should get the upper hand..
Joy in the midst of sorrow! A magnificent Christian theme to be sure, and so the third week of Advent is marked by the pink candle. And, in churches that have the resources, by rose-colored paraments, a more peaceful color for a more restful day.
Why the break? To indicate that even in the midst of sorrow there is a reason to rejoice. Jesus is coming! And even if it is only one week out of four; three parts sorrow for one part joy; the church still heeds the word of St. Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4)
But what kind of gospel is this for such a happy day!
John is in prison for being a Christian. Jesus who, no doubt, could have sent a legion of angels to release him, lets him languish there.
And in very short order a daughter of Jezebel who is certain that the world revolves around her! will order John put to death. She will have his head cut off and brought to her on a platter so that she might laugh into his dead eyes. Laugh at the man who had so much to say, but now cannot say a word.
But you cannot silence the voice of God even if you cut off the head of his prophet, O Jezebel! And so we ask again, what kind of gospel is this for a happy occasion? And what are we to make of John’s question: “Are you the One to come or should we look for another?
Is it possible that the one who introduced the Christ to the world suddenly gets confused, or has a moment of weakness? Was the stalwart preacher of Christ now a "reed shaking in the wind"?
If you think so, think again!
Remember that John was the church's first “desert father’ who lived a life of self-imposed deprivation. He rejected every earthly comfort of food, drink, clothing, companionship and the finer things of life.
Like Moses he was sent into the wilderness to prepare himself, to prepare the way for the Christ. In last week’s gospel we find him fearlessly preaching against the powerful Pharisees and Sadducees; while not sparing the masses lest he should be hailed as the people's prophet, and gain some personal ascendency.
He was God’s prophet, end of story.
And when he found out that King Herod had taken up with his brother’s wife he did not spare them either! And it landed him in prison!
Whatever a surface reading of this gospel might render this is not the man who suddenly turns tail and runs; and so what exactly are we to make of John’s question: “Are you the One to come or should we look for another?
Simply this, that John sent his disciples to inquire of Jesus not for his sake, but for theirs.
Then, though their master was in prison, they would see for themselves that Jesus, and no other, is most assuredly God’s Lamb who takes away the sin of the world – just as John had declared all along. The Savior of the world who, even now, performs the miracles of the Kingdom; and blessed is the one who is not scandalized by him.
Upon meeting the Lord, whom John preached, they discovered for themselves that he is “the promised Messiah, the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” And who, as a sign of the Age to come, gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and life to the dead; and blessed is the one who is not scandalized by him.
Not only does Jesus not criticize John but after John’s disciples leave the scene the Lord sings his praises, and takes the drama even further. He reminds his audience that John came as an ascetic neither eating nor drinking, and they declared him possessed of the devil! Jesus comes eating and drinking and is unceremoniously labeled a glutton and drunkard! One played a happy song but the people would not dance, the other a funeral dirge but they would not cry.
And, what is the church to make of all this?
We do best to think of this segment of St. Matthew as a catechism of the Christ; the liturgy of salvation; written for their sake and for ours, so that we too might have joy in the midst of sorrow. So that we, too, might glorify God for the salvation we are about to obtain.
For you see, O Advent Worshipers, we are all John in prison and condemned to death because of sin. And the voice of the devil, world and flesh put wobbly thoughts into our dizzy heads, and profane questions onto our unclean lips:
Is Jesus really the One who is to come?
Is he the One who will finally end the madness, restore sanity, bind up our broken hearts, and dry our tears for good?
Or should we forget about Jesus, and look for another?
John had no such doubts, but we might. And so the church still proclaims today: Go and tell John what you see and hear. That Jesus is the unstoppable force before whom no object is immovable. Not disease, disability, sorrow, hopelessness, not even death.
This is the meaning of our assembly here today! And if you have not known it before, then learn today that this gospel of Christ cannot be contained within these walls.
But that the liturgy we pray here resounds and is hear by all things visible and invisible. It is heard by angels and archangels, patriarchs and prophets and by faithful and just men everywhere. Heard, too, by the devils and crushes their wicked heads, and drives them back down into the bowels of hell. Vade Satanas! (Mt. 4:10)
And so let us hear the word of our Gradual one more time: “Rejoice in the LORD always, and again I say rejoice.”
And word of Isaiah: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold! Your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God he will come to save you.” Amen.