Sunday, December 16, 2007

Behold, I Send My Messenger

Our Text today is the Gospel Lesson appointed for the THIRD SUNDAY in ADVENT, Matthew 11:2-15

"Behold, I Send My Messenger before your face." The Greek word translated here as messenger "angelos," that is, "angel."

Normally our English translations render this word as angel when speaking of a messenger that has no flesh, i.e. a heavenly spirit, and messenger when speaking of a human being. One notable exception is in Revelation where John the Apostle speaks of the angels of the seven churches of the New Testament churches in Asia Minor. There the Lord is speaking about the pastors who will be the messengers, the angels speaking the message of repentance and glad tidings of great joy through the forgiveness of sins.

ADVENT marks the beginning of a new year of grace in the life of the Christian Church and the proclamation of the message of Christ through God's chosen messengers who He has called into and by the Church to preach and teach everything our Lord has commanded [Matthew 28:19] -- from the repentance of Advent to the joy of Christmas that is Christ in the flesh here for you and me!

On the first Sunday in ADVENT for century upon century the Church has read and pondered the message of the prophet Zechariah, foretelling our Lord's entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Then we get two weeks of John the Baptist, before we finally get a Gospel text that has any apparent connection at all to Christmas.

Palm Sunday!? At the start of ADVENT?

It never fails to strike as strange For those who forget that it is ADVENT, and not Christmas, it never fails to appear od, even wrong somehow --
  • that the Church observes this thing called ADVENT, while the world frenetically Manheim Steamrolls its way through December;
  • that the liturgical color adorning the sanctuary and hanging from the neck of the pastor is purple (or maybe blue), not red and green;
  • that the worship service is filled with hymns written in minor keys that sing words about repentance and preparation rather than the bright major keys of festive Christmas carols.

The world sees no need for ADVENT - for repentance and preparation - also the world that lives inside our hearts. It wants to leapfrog over ADVENT and plunge right into the joy of angels and shepherds and Wisemen. And the sinner in us is eager to jump right in with them.

But the Church in her wisdom says "no," wait a minute. We are not to be conformed to the world's view of Christmas, but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds that is worked through the power of the Holy Spirit that teaches us everything that our Lord has commanded [Matthew 28:20] through the means of grace He has given and entrusted to the Church and her called servants of the Word. As Christ's bride, the Church says "no," because if the joy of Christmas is going to be all that God intends it to be for His people, it needs to be received in hearts that are stilled and quiet, in hearts that have come to know the sorrow of sin and long to be freed from it.

So we pray in the Collect on the First Sunday in ADVENT, "Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come that we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins..." that Christmas, indeed Christ Himself, will be received in hearts that understand His three-fold coming and can pray with fervor: "Come, Lord Jesus!" in the full meaning, and certain hope of that prayer.

Only such hearts are prepared to receive the fullness of the joy that lies in the Christmas Feast - a joy far brighter than tinsel and infinitely more satisfying than an endless round of parties and gluttony.

" O Little Town of Bethlehem" is on the horizon, where with the eyes of our flesh we will see our Savior "Away in a Manger," "Upon a Midnight Clear."

Yes, we see with your eyes. But belief comes thorugh the ears. That is the key. Because "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. " [Romans 10:17]

What you see will offend the Old Adam in you - and I do not mean the commercialization, secularization and political correction of the Winter Holiday Season - because that sinner in all of us is bedazzled and enticed by the things that appeal to the flesh, to our emotions, to our desire to get along with and be accepted by the world out there. The scene of a crude manger, in a dirty stall where the teen-age mother of our Lord, who conceived out of wedlock trundles off the back of a flea-ridden, dung-matted donkey offends our senses and sensibilities so much that we make the scene sparkle pristinely for the decoration of our living rooms and sanctuaries.

What is more, a Lord who allows the carnage of this world to go on without wielding the winnowing fork and setting those sinners ABLAZE! with the fires of Judgment Day is offensive too, as we suffer seemingly as helpless, innocent victims.

But that is walking by sight. Could it be that is what prompted John the Baptizer's question in our text today? -- "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?" Is it possible that what his eyes of flesh saw was challenging what he knew and believed in his spirit?

You would be surprised at the discussion this passage has prompted among Lutheran pastors this past week as we bounced ideas around and asked questions of each other in preparation for preaching the Word into the ears and hearts of God's precious people.

Luther begins his sermon on our Gospel by saying the "question [similar to those I have posed] is unnecessary and of little import." However, in his new CPH Commentary on Matthew, Prof. Jeffrey Gibbs - not one prone to disagree with Saint Martin -- writes, "it is not an unimportant question; indeed, it is related to the main point of the unit and the issue deserves an answer in itself."

Well, let's split the difference and say it is a question that cannot be answered to a certainty. Let us also remember that it is not the faith, or lack thereof in the messenger -- then or now -- that effects faith in the hearer. It is the message of the Word itself that holds the power to save because it is the Word Himself who is being delivered by the breath of the Holy Spirit in those means of grace.

And yet the question deserves and begs treatment. John the Baptizer and cousin of our Lord was a sinner. Our Gospel text has him in prison, where certainly he knew it did not bode well for him in the hands of King Herod -- offspring of the King Herod who had sought to slay his infant cousin -- even though he could not have know he would soon lose his head and his life.

What is certain, is that the captive John needed to hear that his true Head had come into the world so that his everlasting life would never be threatened or in doubt.

You are sinners too. And you need to hear the same thing. God sent the world a messenger to prepare the way for her Savior in John the Baptizer. But notice in today's Gospel lesson, God sent messengers to His messenger. And God never fails to send a messenger to His people because the Baptized of God walk by faith, not sight. For, you see, faith comes by hearing the message of Christ, the message of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. Seeing is open to interpretation, everybody sees differently, so the Lord sends a messenger to tell you what the right interpretation is, "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." [2 Peter 1:20-21]

Pay no attention to the world and its constant need for hype, entertainment and emotional highs - or at least recognize it for the fleeting oy of the flesh that it is Then leave it out there in the world and let the Church and her messenger speak to your soul. What you hear in Christ's Church during Advent will astonish and delight your ears and hearts of faith. For what you hear is the deeper truth, a truth hidden in the simple means God has chosen.

"Your King comes to you!"
  • today in the Word, Absolution & Sacrament of the Divine Service;
  • and any day of the week you seek out your pastor for counsel in the Word and private Confession/Absolution.

And you can be sure He comes not merely to get you into the mood for Christmas , but to actually deliver the Kingdom of Heaven to you -- and you into the Kingdom of Heaven.

So let us greet Him with the songs of hopeful joy, repentant hearts, and eager anticipation of Advent that looks forward to Christmas - Christ in the flesh

  • born in Bethlehem to die outside Jerusalem;
  • risen from the grave and ascended to the right hand of the Father to reign, now unseen in His kingdom of grace among the Baptized of His holy Christian Church;
  • and on the Last Day and forevermore face to face among His redeemed upon the Resurrection of all flesh!

" Behold, I Send My Messenger" says the Lord of Advent and Christmas to you today - in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

With thanks to Rev. David Fischer of Redeemer Lutheran Church, SLC for the idea and the core message above.

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