In the Name of Jesus
Isaiah 40,1-8[9-11] 03123. Sonntag im Advent 03
Damasus, Bishop of Rome † 384
11. December 2011
1. O Heavenly Father, grant unto Your beloved Church so that, remembering her own unrighteousness and corruption, she may take no offense at the lowly presence and the despised word of her only King, the Just, the Helper, Jesus Christ; but always rejoice in His wonderful advent, and receive and accept Him in pure and ready hearts, gladly rejoicing in Him, and rendering all praise and glory to You forevermore. Amen. (Löhe 414).2. 1Comfort, comfort My people, says your God. 2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from Yahweh’s hand double for all her sins. 3A voice cries: „In the wilderness prepare the way of Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground will become level, and the rough places a plain. 5And the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.“ 6A voice says: „Cry!“ And I said: „What shall I cry?“ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. 7The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of Yahweh blows on it; surely the people are grass. 8The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever. 9Get up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of the gospel; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of the gospel; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah: „Behold your God!“ 10Behold, the Lord who is Yahweh arrives with might, and His arm rules for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. 11He will tend His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs in His arms; He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young. This is our text.
3. The 3. Sunday in Advent is historically known as Gaudete, that is, Rejoice! There is, then, tension between today’s First Reading and the Gospel Reading. The 40. Chapter of the Prophet Isaiah is overflowing with the theme of rejoicing, but the 11. Chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew begins with the agonizing struggle [Anfechtung] that has gripped John the Baptizer. The Prophet Isaiah speaks of the refreshing gospel that will be poured out upon all the world when the Messiah arrives, but the Prophet John, who prepared the way for this Messiah, Jesus the Christ, is languishing in prison on account of his call to repent. Soon after the events of Matthew 11, Tetrarch Herod Antipas’ wife, Herodias, and his daughter plotted John’s death and Herod regrettably and shamefully executed the greatest prophet in the Holy Scriptures.
4. Where is the cause for rejoicing? John the Baptizer is executed because of spite and human weakness. Jesus did not intervene. Jesus did not intercede with Herod Antipas on John’s behalf. Jesus passively allowed His cousin and forerunner to be beheaded. Like John, don’t we at times feel as if Jesus has brushed away our cries and concerns? How many prayers of His dear Christians does Jesus fail to answer with a decisive affirmative: Yes, I will do as you petition. We pray for loved ones, yet they still suffer and die. We pray for the hardships in our lives to be resolved, yet they remain and sometimes they even become worse. Relationships become strained and crumble, yet Jesus does not restore them. It seems as if the devil and the world have their way in our lives, while Jesus remains oddly silent. This is not fair! This is not justice! Where is Jesus? we cry in anguish.
5. The Prophet Isaiah is often called the Fifth Evangelist, for his prophetic book is dripping with the sweet gospel. Isaiah cries out: »God’s people are comforted. Your warfare is ended; your iniquity is pardoned; you have received far more grace to amply cover every one of your sins«. King David described God’s grace in his life this way: »O Yahweh, You, prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of Yahweh forever« (Psalm 23,5-6).
6. Sometimes, however, we wonder if Jesus is really serious about this gospel when events in our lives seem contrary to the preached gospel. Such is the lot of God’s people throughout history, and the Gospel according to Matthew tells us that even John the Baptizer, the great forerunner and prophet of the imminent Christ, had his moments of agonizing struggle [Anfechtung]. While he languished in prison, John wonders if Jesus truly is the promised Messiah. John had prepared the way for Jesus in fulfillment of Isaiah 40,3.5: »A voice cries: „In the wilderness prepare the way of Yahweh; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. And the glory of Yahweh will be revealed, and all flesh will see it together, for the mouth of Yahweh has spoken.“« John wants to know: Is Jesus arriving with might and bringing His reward and restitution with Him, (Isaiah 40,10)?
7. Jesus’ answer is not to straight-away march to Herod’s palace and demand the release of John. Rather Jesus bears witness to John’s disciples that the gospel is indeed being proclaimed. Q: What did this proclaimed gospel look like? A: »The blind regain their sight and the crippled walk, lepers are made clean and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them« (Matthew 11,4-5). John received this testimony with joy and satisfaction. He was convinced that Jesus was unfolding the reign of heaven as foretold by the Old Testament Prophets. John remained a prisoner. Soon he would be executed. Nevertheless, John endured his mistreatment and execution in the sure and certain confidence that Christ Jesus was continuing the ministry he had begun. The Christ had arrived and was preaching the gospel; this was enough for John; he was satisfied; his agonizing struggle [Anfechtung] had been quenched with the refreshing water of the gospel. What was true for John the Baptizer two thousand years ago is still true for you in the 21. century. Christ and His gospel are enough and they sustain you during your life on this sinful and fallen earth with all its horrible evil and wickedness. God’s Christian people still suffer in this world, but such tribulation is temporary; the gospel is victorious and eternal. The Prophet Isaiah comforts us with this truth: »The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever« (Isaiah 40,8).
8. Yahweh had chosen Israel to be the herald of the gospel and to cry out: »Behold your God!« John the Baptizer began this proclamation to prepare the way for Jesus. Jesus took up this mantle and proclaimed the gospel in His words and deeds. The Church and her pastors continue this gospel proclamation. You may from time to time have agonizing struggles [Anfechtungen] about Jesus and question why He is doing or not doing certain things in your life. Do not dwell upon such struggles, but turn unto the very Word of God for your consolation and comfort. The gospel of the Holy Scriptures declares: The devil is defeated; death is mortally wounded; your sins are washed clean; hell’s gates are closed to you; God the Father has pronounced you „innocent“. Q: How do you know this? A: You know this through what Christ has done. Behold your God: Christ Jesus who suffered on the cross, died and rose from the dead in victory over sin, death and the devil. Behold your God: who washed away your sins in the waters of Holy Baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Behold your God: whose absolution was pronounced upon you with these pastoral words „Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, has had mercy upon us and has given His only Son to die for us and for His sake forgive us all our sins …“. Behold your God: who blesses you with His very Benediction which proclaims: „The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and X give you peace“.
9. On account of this rich and abundant gospel that Christ has given you, »Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say: Rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus« (Philippians 4,4-7).
10. Be comforted by this 17. century Advent hymn, which sings:
O Jesus, kick in two the serpent’s head,so that set free from all dread,
we may cling to You faithfully
and stay devoted blissfully (ELKG 11 § 6). Amen.
11. Let us pray. O Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in His faithfulness, draw our attention to Your glorious advent with Your might and reward so that we are comforted and consoled in the justification You won for us at Your first advent. Amen.
One Message: Christ crucified and risen for you!
All Scriptural quotations are translations done by The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind using the Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, 4th Edition © 1990 by the Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart, and the Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 27th Edition © 1993 by Deutsch Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart.
ELKB. Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Bayern. www.bayern-evangelisch.de/www/index.php. Copyright © Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche in Bayern.
Held, Heinrich. „Gott sei Dank durch alle Welt“. (Let the Earth Now Praise the Lord). Evangelishc-Lutherisches Kirchengesangbuch. Copyright © 2005 Lutherischen Buchhandlung. The Rev. Peter A. Bauernfeind, Tr. © 2011.
Löhe, Wilhelm. Seed-Grains of Prayer: A Manual for Evangelical Christians. Wartburg Publishing House, Chicago circa 1912. Concordia Publishing House; Concordia on Demand.