Text: Matthew 11:2-15
Date: Advent III + 12/11/16
The Advent call of John the Baptist begins to answer our prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” The Advent candles are a repentant purple in many churches, a hopeful blue in others, but this Sunday the hope and joy of the Gospel shines through with the pink or rose colored candle. Today’s Introit begins, “Gaudete,” “Rejoice…and I will hope continually.” Today’s Advent hymn bids us, “Let the Earthbound Soul Arise.”
We need and welcome that summons precisely because our souls are earthbound, that is, still struggling with the darkness of sin, our eyes not yet clearly seeing the glory of God’s kingdom promised. We don’t quite see it yet. “When John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” The Baptist questioned whether what he was seeing was true. We ask now whether what we are seeing is true. Jesus asked the crowds and us three times, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?” So we may ask on this day “What do you come here to see?”
Sight and gladness is all over today’s readings as if to invite us to a closer look to see good news. “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing…. They shall see the glory of the Lord, and majesty of our God.” That’s the promise. But we don’t yet see it, do we? Well that depends. It depends on whether we’re looking through only our earthbound eyes or the heaven-given eyes of faith. Isaiah prophesied “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened.” But when is “then”? We naturally think of the miraculous re-creation of the new heavens and new earth of the last day, of eternal life. The perfection of paradise. We’re not wrong either if we think of the miracles done by our Lord when He was earthbound for us.
But wait! What do we see now? Today Jesus comes by again and we wonder with the Baptist. We wonder because we don’t think we see the glory, the joy, our salvation. “Are you the one?” we ask with him. I ask you, is Jesus the one? for you? What on earth are you looking for?
I agree with those who believe John himself was in doubt. I mean, here he was in prison after announcing Jesus as the coming Lord, after witnessing the Spirit descend upon Him and proclaiming His coming salvation and judgment with His “winnowing fork in his hand,” “to clear this threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn,” “the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12). But, but where’s the fork and the floor, the barn and the fire? “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
What on earth are you looking for even here in God’s house? So our sight is clouded also. The advent Hymn of the Day commands at the startling, solemn warning of the coming Christ, “Let the earthbound soul arise.” That’s John’s problem, and ours, too. Our eyes, our senses, our souls are earthbound, bound to the spiritual darkness of our sinful condition, and, yes, even when God’s answer is standing right in front of us. Remember Luther’s great hymn about holy baptism? “All that the mortal eye beholds is water as we pour it, before the eye of faith unfolds the power of Jesus’ merit.” What power? Get out your catechism again. Baptism has the power to work forgiveness of sins, to rescue from death and the devil, and to give eternal salvation to all who believe this. It is God’s power to put to death the old earthbound nature so that it arises to the new, deathless, eternal life.
And what do you see here in this little piece of bread and little sip of wine? The earthbound soul sees only bread and wine or at most this bread and wine representing, symbolizing what no one can see. It is only with the heavenbound eyes of faith that our souls are aroused by the very words of Jesus to sing,
Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace,
And all my wearinesss upon Thee lean.
For He did not and does not lie when He holds the bread in His hand and says, “This is my body,” and the cup, “This is my blood.”
Christmas is coming. The night wind once again says to the little lamb, “Do you see what I see?” Today we see again John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ come to prepare the way in our hearts, the way of repentance. “Among those born of women there has arisen no one greater then John the Baptist,” says our Lord. “Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Who’s the greatest? No one but Jesus who became earthbound for a time, for us. Here He took our sin in trade for His life. Then, earthbound no more He is risen from the dead. It is faith in Him that makes our earthbound souls arise. With the eyes of faith we possess new vision, a vision of all of God’s power and grace for us and the whole world; a sure and true vision given and empowered by the Word and the Sacraments of God.