In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
In many ways, today is the most relatable day in the Church Year. We get all of the emotions running through the Readings, especially the Gospel. All too well we know that feeling of John the Baptizer and his disciples, the feeling that things aren’t going well and we’re worried about it. You know the feeling: that uneasiness in your gut, tightness in your chest, and swirling in your head. It’s the feeling that you’re in trouble, or quickly could be; that things are beyond your control; that you’ve made a terrible mistake. These extremely real emotions, feelings, and doubts are ones we know well because we feel them on an almost daily basis. As we go through this life, this life that is far from how God intended it to be, we live in uncertainty, fear of danger, fear of failure, fear that we really aren’t in control. In the midst of this swirling anxiety the Church prays that Christ would “lighten the darkness of our hearts by [His] gracious visitation.” He has and always will. He comes to your anxious heart with His soothing Gospel: Your warfare is ended, your iniquity is pardoned.
For John the Baptizer and his disciples, Jesus brings a lot of emotions and a lot of questions. John knew that Jesus was coming. John confessed that the Messiah had come while still in his mother’s womb. As an adult he preached again that the Messiah had come, that He was ready to “thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn” and to “burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Mt. 3:12). In other words, Jesus had come to judge, to separate the faithful from the unfaithful, and to let the bad guys have it. The Man John preached about sounds scary, like someone you wouldn’t want to cross. So among the few who were still waiting for the Messiah, many came to believe He was going to come as a military king, a victorious general destroying the Romans and restoring the kingdom of Israel. So, when Jesus comes giving sight to the blind, cleansing lepers, raising the dead, and preaching the Gospel and not doing any of the other things they expected, they didn’t know what to do. This Jesus certainly fit the prophecies, but He didn’t fit their expectations. Whether John sends his disciples to figure out for themselves that Jesus really was the Messiah or whether John himself was questioning, we may never know. Either way, someone thought they were wrong. They thought they had stood up for nothing. They thought John was about to be beheaded for defending the Word of a God who wasn’t holding up His end of the bargain. They feel sick, confused, scared, anxious, and any number of emotions as they come to Jesus that day. Perhaps there’s even some jealousy. John came first, he prepared the way, lived in a very minimalistic way, and now he was living out his final days in prison, about to be beheaded at the request of the king’s erotic dancer. On the other hand, Jesus is getting all the fame, all the attention, even eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners, and nothing bad is happening to Him. At least, not yet. We all know that feeling of the mix of jealousy and anxiety that John’s disciples, and maybe even John himself, are feeling.
For us today, regardless of what emotions and uncertainties are swirling around in our heads and how they play out in our physical reactions, John preaches the same message that he did to his disciples—‘Go to Jesus. Talk to Him. Tell Him your doubts and fears, your uncertainties. See what He says.’ Jesus knows that our doubts and setbacks make us ready to throw in the towel, eager to sit in the corner and pout until things turn around and go our way. He knows how sin affects us, the sins we commit and sins others commit against us. That’s why Jesus answers John’s disciples the way he does, by quoting what Isaiah said the Messiah would do—He is showing that He has come to give the Gospel concretely. Jesus did not come to give the Gospel in some sort of disembodied way, but to restore and renew His creation. He has come to undo sin. Its effects may not be done away with here in this life, but because Jesus has died to defeat sin and death, sin’s end result, there is hope. Jesus has come to be the end of anxiety, the end of uncertainty, the end of physical distress over life’s troubles. He tells us that there is nothing to fear because the end of it all is accomplished, and it will only work out for our good.
Until the end comes and all our warfare is ended for good, we wait on the Lord. We wait on the Lord by being where He has promised to be—by gathering around the Baptismal font, the Altar, and the Pulpit. We trust that He does what He promises to in those places whether we feel it or not. The risen Lord is present for us here to deliver to us what He has won for us on the cross and from the empty tomb. Here He speaks and we listen. He forgives and we rejoice. We aren’t merely going through the motions, but we are acting in faith, in accordance with His Word, because that is what we trust.
Because the Lord is present in His Word to give us comfort and hope we can rejoice in Him always. Why? His Word endures forever, and His Word has promised good to us. By His Word He comes to us and makes His home among us and in us. He tells us that by His Blood, by His innocent suffering and death, He has ended our warfare, pardoned our iniquity, and that He has received from the Father’s hand double for all our sins. He has heard our supplications and comes to us with healing in His wing, the forgiveness He won for us.
That’s why today is Gaudete, rejoicing Sunday. You are able to take to Jesus all your doubts, your fears, your sins. You can lay on the Lamb of God all of your burdens and He will bear them. He has borne them to the cross, died for them, and gives you His peace and joy that no one can take from you. Because of that, it’s not just today that you can rejoice, it’s every day. Every day you remember that you are Baptized. Uneasiness in your gut, tightness in your chest, and swirling in your head can never change your status in God’s eyes. Not even a beheading can take away your place in the Kingdom of heaven. So rejoice in the Lord always! Again I will say: rejoice.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).