Advent 3, 2018
The Epistle – 1 Corinthians 4:1-5
The Gospel – St. Matthew 11:2-10
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.
The theme of preparation continues in Advent as we now enter the third week. As we draw closer to the coming of Christ, we should draw ever closer to his grace as we seek to cleanse our lives of the pollution that is not becoming of a Christian.
In the first week our focus was on getting oriented on understanding how Christ’s first coming as well as the event of His entrance into Jerusalem signified His second coming in power and glory.
Last week we were reminded of the way in which we are to conduct ourselves in preparation for Christ’s arrival.
We were reminded that we have done those things which we ought not to have done and we have left undone those things which we ought to have done….and that there is no health in us.
And we further were admonished to seek the grace of God often…. in order that He would grant us true repentance and amendment of life…and that we would be constantly aware of the necessity of our new life and pursue it.
So we have seen that our lives are instructed by the knowledge of Christ and His immanent return.
Last week, we prayed that the Holy Scriptures….God’s Words written would be read, marked, learned and inwardly digested…so that we would be guided by their wisdom.
This week we are called to consider one of the primary ways in which the message of Christ’s return is delivered. …by the ministers of Christ’s Church.
It has been the will of God to prepare the way for His coming for a long time.
In times past, God raised up prophets who would be faithful ministers and messengers.
Telling the people of God’s return.
Sometimes that return of God would be in severe judgment.
Other times the return of God would be in great compassion and mercy…restoring a people whom He has chastised.
God sent forth a faithful messenger and minister in the person of the Angel Gabriel.
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” (ESV)
Luke 1:30–33 ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’” (ESV)
Then in Luke 2:8–12 we read….
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
 And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’” (ESV)
We then come to this Sunday where we hear about another minister and messenger who was sent by God…who would prepare the way before Him…
This is none other than John the Baptist.
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. (ESV)
And what was his message of preparation? “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make his paths straight!”
“After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (ESV)
Further, as he saw Jesus coming to him, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (ESV)
So what we are to think on today is the wording of how we prayed at the start of this service.
O Lord Jesus Christ, addressing Jesus himself and not the Father this time….
O Lord Jesus Christ, who at your first coming, you sent you messenger, (John the Baptist) to prepare your way ahead of you, ….here is the petition….
Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries….i.e. the ministers of your Church who are to be administering the Sacraments and preaching God’s Word to your people….grant to them…..that they may likewise prepare and make ready in just as serious and as clear a way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just….so that when you come back you may find your people anticipating your return… prepared…..ready….growing in sanctification….growing in grace….growing in the knowledge of you…
Receiving your sacraments of grace…..living with one another in peace and harmony. …living in such a way so as to be found acceptable in your sight.
This is the calling…the vocation of the ministers of Christ. Proclaiming his return. Proclaiming the need for readiness.
All of those whom God sent to announce for Him His coming or His return or His arrival set the stage for John the Baptist.
And John’s announcing the coming of the Messiah was different in certain ways. In the past it was, “He will come and do such and such…and will…there will be a day….
All future predictions. When John came, his message was “The Lord is at hand.” “Behold, the Lord, the Lamb in your midst.”
It is striking then that this man who we see portrayed with such boldness and a personality that is quite outspoken and confident is now imprisoned and sending his followers to go to Jesus and ask, “Are you the one?...or are we to look for another?”
Commentators differ somewhat over this passage. Some believe John is quite firm in his faith still, and he is sending followers to go to Jesus so they can be comforted in some way by his answers….and maybe even follow Him now.
Others believe John’s faith is faltering somewhat and he is questioning why, if the Lamb of God, the Messiah has come, why is he in prison and this restoration of the kingdom of Israel is not unfolding as hoped.
Jesus is not really getting on with the mission of carrying Israel back to glory.
It is probably more the latter. John is in prison. He was faithful in the duty God had given him. He had warned the people of the coming of the Christ.
He had led many to the waters of repentance and the forgiveness of sins. These were the beginnings of their preparation.
The people had to get right for the arrival of their Messiah. …and yet…Jesus is teaching….preaching...healing…all good things happening, but isn’t there more?
Is he the one, or shall the people perhaps be looking for another?
Commentator - “There was no outward show to signify the Infinite Glory that was dwelling in the lowly-born, lowly living Man, who was in the midst of them.
But Jesus, being the ultimate faithful messenger and minister of God gives answer to John’s disciples.”
Jesus tells them to go and tell John what is happening.
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.  And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (ESV)
If it was the Scriptures last week that were the source of our understanding the coming of Christ, and this week it is the faithfulness of Christ’s ministers to preach this News, from the scriptures, to His people, then this is what we are to be praying for this week, and thinking on this week, and hearing from the ministers of Christ all of the time.
The message of God’s ministers is to be a message to the people repeatedly of God’s coming and of His salvation…and of our need….all of us….to be prepared.
They are to, as Isaiah 35:3–4 says….
 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
 Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!
Behold, your God
will come with vengeance,
with the recompense of God.
He will come and save you.” (ESV)
Just like the prophets of old.
Just like John the Baptist.
The voice that cries in the wilderness. The message is repeated and repeated…because the hearts of the people are slow to hear and slow to act.
Our liturgy is purposely designed to be repetitive because the framers were well aware for the need for constant reminders of the things of God.
We begin each day in Advent with Morning Prayer and the opening sentences are, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
In the evening office we begin each time during Advent, “Watch ye, for ye know not when the mast of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning: lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.”
We all need to be reminded again and again of the fact that Christ is coming again.
We confess in the Creed each time…I believe He shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.
That should stir us up to deep concern.
Let this week in particular be one where you contemplate the long and oft repeated theme that God has never left His people without a faithful minister and messenger.
In all ages, one has been supplied…or in times of silence…the scriptures have been there as the written witness to God’s promises.
Pray for me and for all who serve this Church and all the Churches of Christ all over the world.
Pray that our message never wavers and it is always the pure message of Christ’s redemption. ….and the necessity of being prepared for His coming again.
Advent season is one among many where we think upon a certain aspect of Christ and His life and ministry…..over all of the others.
But at the same time it is no different in that the message of Christ, delivered by His ministers and messengers is to be often repeated and often proclaimed, so that the people of God would be always preparing for His return.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.