Sermon – Advent 3
December 17th, 2006
As we have said many times, Advent means “coming”. And so Advent is a season of expectation, and watching, and waiting. Waiting. And more waiting.
Waiting isn’t always easy. We wait in line at the post office to mail our cards and packages. We wait in line at the grocery store behind the person with too many items in the express lane. We wait for the traffic light to turn green, and hope that the car ahead of us will hurry up so we can make it too. We wait. We wait for our loved ones to call or write or visit. We wait in the doctor’s office and then we wait for the test results.
We wait for God to answer our prayers and give us what we think we need, want, or even deserve. We wait for Christmas to come. And sometimes we want it to come quick, sometimes we want to get it over with, and sometimes we would just as soon not have it at all. But we can only wait, and watch, and wait some more.
One of the sinful human reactions to waiting is to become anxious. Anxieties about the future and what it will hold. Anxieties for our family and friends and ourselves. We worry that things won’t turn out like we plan, and that our worst fears will come true.
The Old Testament people of Israel knew the anxieties of waiting. They had plenty to worry about. Would their enemies destroy them? Would they ever be freed from slavery, or later, from exile? When would the promised Messiah come? And when he came, how would they know it was him?
John the Baptist seemed to share in those anxieties when he sent messengers to Jesus in today’s Gospel reading. “Are you the one to come, or should we expect another?” Strange that John - who boldly proclaimed Christ to be “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” - strange that he would now second-guess himself. He grew anxious, perhaps, that Jesus’ salvation wasn’t coming as he expected. If anyone had reason to be anxious, though, it was John, who was sitting in Herod’s dungeon and would eventually be executed. Time was short for John. Business was urgent. Jesus, are you the one, or what?
And Jesus’ beautiful answer, more than a simple yes, points to the evidence that he is, in fact, the one who was to come. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf here, the dead are raised, and (most importantly) the good news is preached to the poor. All these were signs that the Old Testament prophets connected with the Messiah. And Jesus fulfilled them all.
Jesus is always the answer to our anxieties. Paul knew that when he wrote to the Phillipians. Because “the Lord is at hand”, Paul said, “do not be anxious about anything”. Because Jesus is coming, and coming soon, we have no need to fear. We have no need to worry and wonder. We are called to simply trust in him and be at peace.
How can we, in the midst of all this waiting, do that? How can we NOT be anxious? How can we always rejoice? How can we have peace? Answer: in Christ.
Now please don’t think that the point of this passage is simplistic and trite. This is not Christianity’s version of , “Don’t worry be happy. Turn that frown upside-down”. “Rejoice in the Lord always” doesn’t mean that Christians have to be or act like super-happy-go-lucky euphoric smiley faces who are always on cloud 9. This is not so much an admonition of how we should feel, emotionally. But just as the peace of God passes our understanding, so too does the joy of God surpass what is in our hearts and minds.
For our hearts are, by nature, full of all kinds of junk. Sin and the swirling emotions, often conflicting, that it brings. We are fickle creatures who are easily upset and easily satisfied with the smallest things. Our emotions are not trustworthy, and they often fail us. Sometimes our head even knows better than what our heart is telling us, and we follow the heart for some reason anyway. Sometimes we know there is nothing to fear, and yet anxiety still rules us. Jesus knows this. He knows the heart is the source of all kinds of mischief for us.
"What comes out of a man is what makes him 'unclean.' For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7:20-22)
Our culture wants us to follow our hearts, and listen to our hearts. But our hearts are the problem. So we would pray with the Psalmist, “create in me a clean heart, oh God.”
And God does just that in Jesus Christ. Jesus gives us true reason to rejoice. Jesus gives us a clean heart, a peace that passes understanding. Jesus guards our hearts and minds. He takes away our fears and anxieties, and hears our prayers.
It all started in the heart of God, which held so much love for a sinful world. He so loved this world, that he sent his only Son, so whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. He sent his only Son to show compassion on the sick, the weak, the poor. To show them who he was in his miracles, but also to preach the good news to all. God sent his Son, born of a woman, born as a human. And our Lord Jesus Christ lived a perfect human life and died a sacrificial death to take away the sins of the world. Through him and his work, we have peace with God. Through him we have a future with God. And in him, we can and do rejoice, always.
I once had a teacher who joked at the beginning of class, “The mandatory fun will now begin”. Some might think that the life of a Christian is some sort of mandatory happiness. It’s not. Paul’s words to the Phillipians are not words of “you must” so much as they are words of “you get to”. Hear it as good news. Hear it as encouragement. Not, “don’t be anxious OR ELSE!”. But instead, “you don’t have to be anxious any more.” You “get to” rejoice always!
Trusting in Christ frees us from so much anxiety and fear. It brings a peace that surpasses the conflict on the surface, a peace that goes to the core of our being. It brings a rejoicing that is deeper than a smile on our face or a spring in our step. It is a joy and peace that begin at the cross, run through the open tomb, and derive from the one now seated on Heaven’s high throne. It is a joy and peace that look forward in trust and faith to the day when he comes again. It is a joy and peace that waits, not in fear, but in hopeful expectation of that day. This is the good news that Jesus brought, and that Jesus still brings today. It is for all people, and it is for you.
And so we wait. We wait for Christmas. We wait for answer to our petitions and prayers. We wait… for whatever… in joy and peace. And we wait also for that day when all the waiting is over, and all anxiety is put away forever.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, until that day… Amen.