Rejoice in What You Have Heard

Text: Luke 7:18-28
Date: Advent III + 12/16/12

Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord! For when He comes we rejoice. And He rejoices over us (Zeph 3:14, 17)! The Third Sunday in Advent is called “Rejoice Sunday” as the Introit announces, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” Like John the Baptist in prison, however, we are not always in the mood to rejoice. Our expectations are often contradicted, our hopes suppressed, our happiness challenged, our security threatened. We question even those things we thought most reliable, that we were most convinced of. “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” The true joy of this day, however, comes as the Word of God lifts our eyes once again above our own weakness to the One who came to save us, who comes now to give us freedom, hope and life, and who is coming again in the fullness of His glory. Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord!

In our Advent preparation we have heard the promise to Mary and Joseph of the first Christmas, and the promise to Elizabeth and Zechariah of a son to be a prophet to announce the appearance of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We’ve heard John’s preaching a baptism of repentance, his call to a radical repentance that can be seen in lives of mercy, and finally his urging of two of his disciples to follow Jesus, God’s “beloved Son.” Quickly the story is all about Jesus and John fades into the background, so much so that it is not until the seventh and ninth chapters of Luke’s account of things that we hear what happened to John the Baptist, and then only briefly.

St. Matthew tells us more—how it was John’s preaching condemning of the Roman ruler Herod Antipas (son of the “Christmas time” Herod the Great) for his adultery with Herodias, the wife of Herod’s half-brother Philip. In retaliation H.A. slammed John into prison. So it was while John was in prison that he was hearing about how things were going with Jesus. And it raised some questions.

John still had disciples of his own. Today we hear that John sent two of his disciples to ask an important question. Whether it was a question also for John himself has been debated. But the text would make it seem that here John revealed that he was less a “pillar of faith” and more like us, burdened by doubts and all the contradicting evidence that surrounds us.

For all our hopes and dreams that God will be with us, for instance, and pull us through, that still doesn’t stop the continuing onslaught of trials and tragedies, trembling and terror. Where is God? Where is God, after all, when obviously mentally disturbed individuals randomly gun down and murder innocent movie goers, mall shoppers or, of all things, elementary school children? Where is God, on the other hand, when the legal murder of millions of pre-born babies hardly causes concern anymore? Where is God when our own children go astray, or our husband or wife seems to lose interest in the marriage, our boss threatens to fire us for whatever little reason he or she can find or manufacture, or when our careful plans for the future are suddenly dashed by economic stress or disaster?

So here John sits in prison. For what reason? For preaching the truth! And there’s Jesus preaching freedom and deliverance from sin, and (just in this chapter) healing a Roman Centurion’s servant and even raising a widow’s only son from death! And here sits John in prison. Is he not wondering the same as we? Where is God? Where is this deliverance, peace and freedom? So he sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” St. Luke gives emphasis to this question by telling us that the disciples asked the question of Jesus, word for word, just as they were told, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” By the repetition Luke wants us to admit that’s our question, too.

      “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” “Lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation” we prayed in today’s Collect. Well, here He is! There He was for John. But, he must have wondered, where’s the “winnowing fork” and fire of judgment predicted of Him? And here He is! But where’s the victorious, mighty liberator, the powerful restorer of our sad divisions, the King of Peace? Well, there He was, though in the form of God, humbled and doing good to all. And here He is, hidden in humble words and wine and bread and the fellowship of faith. But is this all we get? Is this all we can hope for? Or should we look for something else?

      A lot of people have opted for the looking for something else. It may be in the excitement and entertainment of so-called “contemporary worship.” Or they may be drawn to the presumed security of the legalism or order of the Roman or Eastern Orthodox churches. Or list the many spiritual movements that have dotted church history from monasticism to the more charismatic or direct enlightenment fantasies. Is this all we get? Is this all we can hope for? Are you the One? Or shall we look for another?

       The answer is: “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard.” Christ bids John and us to let Him lift our eyes above and beyond ourselves, our doubts, our fears, our disappointments, our questions; to lift them above to behold Him. When He says, “Tell John what you have seen and heard,” He doesn’t mean the local weather conditions or forecast or the latest breaking news of the effects of sin in the world. He means to tell John what you have seen and heard Jesus doing and saying and preaching. His works were the clear fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah:

In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. (Isaiah 29:18)

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. (Isaiah 35:5-6) And these same things you and I have seen and heard in the witness and inspired record of eyewitnesses. Their words have engendered the gift of faith in you that overrides mere human wisdom not to mention all the doubts and fears that would otherwise make you question or look for any other than Jesus Christ.

For more than his ministry of healing and miracles and words of wisdom, it is when we “see” the answer to the question,
“What wondrous love is this”
“That caused the Lord of bliss
To bear the dreadful curse for my soul” (LSB 543);
when we see His love not for only a few but for the whole world, which means also His love for you, displayed on the Cross of His Crucifixion; it is then we know that there is “salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

So where is God now in the midst of my doubts? As Frederic W. Baue has penned:

Yet is God here?
Oh, yes! By Word and promise clear,
In mouth and soul
He makes us whole—
Christ, truly present in this meal.
O taste and see—the Lord is real.

Is this for me?
I am forgiven and set free!
I do believe
That I receive
His very body and His blood.
O taste and see—the Lord is good. (LSB 629)

Blessed! Blessed, indeed, is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Rejoice! “Rejoice in What You Have Heard.”