Sermon for the 3rd Sunday in Advent - Matthew 11:2-10
John had to hear it one more time, and he was this Elijah foretold. This Elijah being one whom we read of last week who was to come and get everyone ready for the advent of the Messiah. He was a big deal. He went to seminary. Read his Bible every day, prayed the hours, attended services twice weekly, preached and taught confirmation and lived to tell the tale. Yet, all that ministry, that Elijah work, gave him one outcome – prison. The first Elijah was a prophet that stood up to the evilest of kings and most voracious of politicians, working to turn the people of Samaria back to God. Now the new Elijah is sitting in jail, fulfilling his role, because he had the audacity to tell King Herod that he could not steal his brother’s wife from him. This John, in his sufferings and doubts, he needed to hear from Christ again. Just one more time. Are you he? Are you the one? Tell me. Was this all in vain? Did I get it wrong?
You see John wasn’t able to preach much anymore. In prison he might have a captive audience, but nothing like the crowds who came to him from all over to be baptized, to hear from John, to repent and to have someone hear their confession. Now John is the one in need and he wants the Gospel. He wants Jesus. Just one more word of Christ because he wonders if he will ever hear it again. To be reminded. To have forgotten and then to hear those words one more time – I am he. See my work. Forgiveness. Mercy. Resurrection. Jesus being himself and giving himself to you. I think of these doubts by John as I do the need to say to my wife – I love you. To hear from her the same. It is not as though I believe she doesn’t love me anymore, as much as I need to be reminded and to remind her. So too with us and Christ. To know he is the one we have been waiting for.
Because of prison John had to send his disciples to Jesus. He can’t go himself, but his fears and doubts were enough that he had to send someone to find out. Send his disciples to hear from Jesus, that they might come back and tell this lowly imprisoned preacher – You were right. We saw him. We heard him. Brother John, you were right. He is the Christ.
A most necessary message for the imprisoned. In fact, Jesus hammers the Word home to John’s disciples as he basically recites his ordination verses. Isaiah 61. He read from it that day in Nazareth. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good news to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” Except Jesus left out a part in his sermon to John’s disciples. He speaks of the blind seeing, the lame walking, lepers cleansed, deaf hearing and the dead raised, good news preached to the poor or meek, but Jesus says nothing of the prisoners set free. Saying to John, “Cousin, hear me. I am he, and you know that. But you will die there. I am he, I am yours, you are mine, but you will not be set free. Except, remember this…I do raise the dead.” Jesus being that Preacher for John, that John might know that even in his suffering, Jesus is still Jesus. Still the Christ. Still God made flesh for John’s sake and yours.
We all need preachers. We need people to come to us in our suffering and to tell us that this is not the end. To tell us that God is not punishing us. Has not abandoned us. That there is good news in Christ beyond the bad news of the world. Beyond the bad news of our mortality. That even when bondage seems close, death imminent, life seems dark and bleak, we have one who frees the slave, killed death on that cross, brought light through his advent into your world. Is that you? Are you the messenger sent by another to proclaim the good news of Christ to someone? To bring them back from the brink? Not to speak of salvation from hell as much as reconciliation with God, in Christ? That God’s word has its work to do even when we are in prison. Captive to sin, to death, to time, to ourselves, to society, to expectations and perceptions of who we are supposed to be rather than those for whom Christ died.
Christ takes the time, after his little sermon to those men sent by John, to remind the people gathered there of this John the Baptizer. Saying to the people that John was more than just a prophet. More than just a messenger with a message for a particular time or people. More than the “Thus saith the Lord.” He was the one who said “Here he is. He is here now for you.” Declaring the truth of the existence of God in Christ for you. John being the one getting us ready so that the Word comes speaking to you. Opening your eyes to see this Christ as being this one who has come for you and where he is. In his word. In his bread and wine. In the waters of your baptism. Restoring the strength of your legs that you might come to hear those words again. Cleansing you from all sin, from death, from the power of the devil. From all that they say might make you unclean. Opening your ears to hear, to want to hear this good news. That you and God are reconciled. That you were dead, but now you live. Buried with Christ and raised to newness of life. That even in your poor estate, Christ has blessed you, forgiven you all your sin, whether you feel blessed as a poor convicted sinner or not. Pronouncing good news in your poverty of body and soul. That Jesus comes to you in prison through the mouths of preachers, of those whom you have sent, to tell you that release and freedom are coming. That is why John came first. Why this “Elijah” figure came. This call to repentance. To get our minds on God so that when he makes his advent among us we are ready to hear Christ tell us he has forgiven us even before we confess our sin, before we ever made the repentance or turning to the Lord.
Our confession, our doubts, never predate the coming of Jesus. Jesus comes when we may not even want him to. He preaches even when we don’t want to hear him. How much more, when your heart grows faint and doubts creep in is he to speak to you so eagerly again as you ask him – Are you the one or do I have to wait for another? What he says to you – I AM HE. Thanks be to God. Amen.