The Third Sunday in Advent – Series C – Luke 7:18-28
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Today we look at Advent through a rose-colored candle.
It’s the only day of Advent that we do this, on every other Sunday of this season of preparation, we light blue candles.
The color blue reminds us not only of the hope that is coming with Christmas, but it also causes us to remember that Advent is actually, of course a season of repentance.
It’s the time of the Church Year in which we check to make sure that our hearts and ears are open to the Word of God, found especially here in the biting and serious Words of John the Baptist.
To know that our sin is not a light and fluffy thing, but rather a destructive and corrosive disease.
The color Blue shows us repentance, so that as we gaze into the depths of our sin, our hearts might receive the fullness of God coming in flesh for us.
But today we don’t light a Blue candle, we light a rose-colored candle. Today we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday in Advent, the very middle of the coming Christmas season.
Today we rejoice.
And more to the point, we rejoice in the middle of the journey, in the middle of a season about repentance.
For even as we wait, here in the season of Advent, here in the sorrow of our fallen world, in situations that are not always happy–even as we endure, having to bear up under suffering and perplexity–even so, we still have reason to rejoice.
Yes, today, we look at Advent through a rose-colored candle.
But make no mistake, this is no pipe-dream, it is not a happiness for happiness’ sake.
We have the expression about looking at something “through rose-colored glasses.”
And by that, we mean an unrealistic, overly cheerful, sunny optimism that does not see the darker side of life.
Rose-colored glasses means that we dismiss and deny the suffering all around us, the only joy that’s found here is nothing more than a fantasy, nothing more than a convenient deception.
No, that is not what we mean by looking at Advent through a rose-colored candle.
Rather, on this Gaudete Sunday, this Day of rejoicing, we confess that we have reason, even now to maintain hope and joy, even while we recognize the painful reality all around us and the painful reality within us.
For even when we are confused and filled with anxiety by the turmoil and terror that we find so commonplace in our world, for the Christian, there is still reason to rejoice.
In Luke chapter 7, we find John the Baptist, and with him, a world full of sorrow, suffering and doubt.
John, the great forerunner of the Lord, the one who carried forth the will of God with all vigilance and boldness…and yet, John, now the one rotting in prison, soon to have his own head separated from his body…We might ask, how fair is that?
It should be no wonder that he was full of doubt, anxiety and distress, even if he was the greatest of the
Old Testament prophets.
John’s life does seem quite unfair; he was sent as a man on a mission, he preached the coming judgement of the Lord against all injustice, oppression and evil. He proclaimed the Messiah’s deliverance and rescue of his people from the terrors of this life and the burden of their sins.
And yet, here is John…waiting…the prison doors haven’t burst open, the hope for any real justice seems to be a lost cause, and Herod, the one who threw him in prison out of mere embarrassment, seems to now be getting away with murder.
If the Messiah is really coming, then why is John still stuck here?
As his suffering fills him with doubt, John sends two of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” In other words, “Are you sure we’ve got the right Messiah?”
As John sends out his disciples, he doesn’t seem to be in any kind of mood to rejoice. He may have felt like giving up. Wondering, what’s the use? Did I put my faith in a false dream? Why does everything seem to be going wrong?
I preached the coming judgement, the bad trees getting the axe, the fire coming down upon the earth, and yet the world is still filled with violence and fear, wicked people still seem to have the upper hand.
I preached the coming salvation, the coming Jesus as peace upon the earth…so what’s taking so long?
These were John’s questions. This was his perplexity. Maybe you and I have some questions too. Maybe we share in some of that perplexity. We watch the news and see the stories of mass-shootings, one right after the next, of terror and war threatening to break the integrity of our borders, where is God in all of that?
Where is justice and rescue in that?
We have loved ones suffering with terrible illnesses, cutting people down before their time. Loss, divorce, tragedy.
It may seem at times that Evil is winning in the world, as though God isn’t doing much about it.
And if this causes us to grow anxious, the violence and chaos outside of us, then we are soon to grow more anxious, and more perplexed, for as we turn to look inside of ourselves, we find that the view doesn’t get much better.
Here, we see our own sin. We see the same old poor excuse for a Christian that we’ve been along, we continue with sins that we should have given up long ago, our patience doesn’t seem to grow, our love has become stagnant, we don’t seem to be getting much better.
And so, we may ask, What’s wrong with me? Am I even a real Christian? How long, O Lord, how long? How long will this Advent waiting last?
The problem of evil, the long wait, the suffering amidst this season of preparation, can be hard to take, difficult to wrap our minds around. It certainly was for John, and it certainly is for us.
So what’s the answer? What’s the comfort, the joy to be found in the middle of all of this?
Indeed, what Jesus answers to John is the same answer given to us, it is the true joy given on this Sunday of the rose-colored candle.
In Luke 7, Christ proclaims, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
What Christ is saying to John and to you and I is this: You are perplexed because evil seems to be winning and judgment doesn’t seem to be coming. But I tell you, I promise, I swear by my life, that that day will indeed come, and you can be sure of it.
And the reason you can count on it is that beginning of the prophecies of the Messiah are now taking place; the blind see, the deaf hear, the Gospel is proclaimed.
Indeed the journey of God dwelling with his people and going up to die has begun…and this journey will not be cut short, it will not be stopped, it will not be slowed down or delayed…it will run its course.
If Christ has done this much, he will surely finish the rest.
And the proof of that, in all certainty is to be found in the cross that Christ will endure.
For if ever there was an unjust suffering, a senseless violence, this is it.
If ever it seemed like evil was winning, that hope had been lost, it was on that day when the sky turned black and God’s own Son cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Never in all that we know and all that we may suffer, has there been anything so unfair and unjust.
And yet, never, in all that we know and all that we find comfort in, has there ever been a greater cause for joy.
For in Christ, God delivered the world from that evil, suffering and violence that truly is terrifying and damning.
Here in the crucified one, we find the only answer that works, the only answer that truly matters in the end.
Here in Christ, this answer, this joy takes evil upon himself and bears our burden for us.
Here in his unjust suffering and his joyful death, is the redemption for all your sins.
Here is the only thing that will give you the strength and the comfort you need to rest your soul in the midst of all the turmoil and perplexity of this troubled life.
This, the crucified one, the joy of salvation, is the only reliable reason to rejoice in any and every circumstance.
For our joy is found in the journey of Christ, it is the only journey that really matters, the body and blood that really forgives sins, the certainty that really is a cause for joy.
Into that journey, you have been buried, into that way, you have been bound, covered, and held fast.
So that just as you have begun in Christ through faith and Holy Baptism, you have a true reason to rejoice.
For if he has taken you this far, binding you to his death, raising you in his life, holding you secure in his faith, then you may have the greatest certainty that he will finish the rest.
Even in your present suffering, even when the diagnoses is poor, even when violence rages all around, even when peace among men seems unattainable, you dear Christian, can rejoice.
For this joy is not some cheap caffeine high, it’s not a matter of shutting out the present injustices, it’s not a happiness that deceives and removes us from the world for a time.
This joy is Christ, his body, the one you’ve been brought into, it is a lasting peace, a true comfort.
For he has promised by the blood of his cross to keep you, to hold you fast, to carry you on his journey.
Just he has for John the Baptist, he will carry you through, even if your head is separated from your body, even if you suffer disease, scorn and hatred, the true joy is found in his journey.
In the blood of the cross we see through the rose-colored candle.
The journey has begun…and it will not be cut short, it will not slowed down, or put on hold…the life of all eternity has been given and he carries you now, as he will to all eternity.
It’s time to rejoice.
You are with Christ, you have the certainty of joy that he journeys to carry you home.
In the Name of Jesus, Amen.