St. Matthew 11:1-9
by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse
“Rejoice in the Lord alway; and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. Lord, you have been favorable to your land; You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.”
The Lord is at hand! Prepare for His Coming! This is the theme of Advent. We cannot prepare for His First Advent, as this lies in the past. But the commemoration of his birth reminds us that there is a Constant Coming and a Future Coming. For these we are to prepare. At the First Coming, St. John prepared the way. The Lord still has His messengers who are to prepare the faithful for a happy celebration of his First Advent, for his Constant Coming in Word and Sacrament, and for his Coming in Power and Glory. They are the ministers of Christ. The Scripture lessons and Collect for this day direct attention to them and call upon the faithful to examine their attitude toward Christ’s messengers and their message.
In the Holy Gospel, our Lord says of St. John that he was His messenger, preparing the way before Him. In St. John 1 it is said that the John came to bear witness of the Light. He was not the Light, but the messenger of preparation for the Messiah who was to arise and give light, to be the Light of the world. In preparation for the Advent we pray that by Christ’s gracious visitation the darkness of our hearts may be dispelled and the Light shine in the darkness.
I. The Danger of Christmas
A. Through her ministry the Church endeavors to prepare her children for the Advent. This is the reason to introduce John the Baptist at this point. This is the second Sunday before Christmas, and there is the danger that from here on our preparation will consist largely in working ourselves into an emotional, sentimental state about a poor Babe born in a stable. We need to be reminded that Christmas means more than gushing over a touching story or indulging in a spree of unselfish giving. We need to have the voice in the wilderness cry to us, “Make straight in the desert a highway for your God!” God is coming.
Prepare His way into your hearts and lives, for it is here that He would enter and rule. The unbelieving world around us gets very sentimental over the poor Babe because it knows nothing of, and cares less for, the spiritual aspects of Christmas. “Blessed is he who takes no offense at Me.”
B. St. John’s mistake was that he expected things not included in the divine plan. We must not make that mistake. What should we expect and prepare for? Jesus said, “Go and tell what you see and hear.” What does Jesus want us to hear and see? The prophets tell us what we may expect. “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied” (Ps. 22:26). “The deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see” (Is. 29:18). “The Lord has anointed Me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. . . to comfort all who mourn” (Is. 61:1, 2).
What do we see and hear? The spiritually poor, those who mourn over their sins, shall be satisfied. The thought of sin is not out of place as we prepare to celebrate Christmas. The Child in the manger can mean nothing to us unless we come with the words ringing in our ears, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Thank God if you come to Bethlehem with guilt feelings! You may leave them there and go away without them. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” In Bethlehem God enters our human life as a true man to cancel all sin and to take all guilt upon Himself. Peace, the peace between God and man, is accomplished in Bethlehem. We sinners are again the objects of God’s good will. In and through the Christ Child, God has established a contract and bound Himself to forgive all and every sin.
II. The Trustworthy Minister
A. John was such a faithful minister. His faithfulness to duty had caused him to be “in the prison,” and finally it cost him his life.
B. Condemned to inactivity, John became impatient when he heard of the quiet, peaceful manner in which his Master was establishing the Kingdom. Things were not going as he had imagined. He sent a message implying that it was high time to get things under way. The threshing floor was to be cleared, the chaff burned with unquenchable fire. This shows that even the strongest are at times weak, and the most sincere Christians have dark times of failure and discouragement.
III. The Faithful Minister
Our Lord’s treatment of St. John is a strong encouragement.
A. Tell John again just what is happening. "Am I not doing what I must do according to God’s plan as revealed by the Prophets? I am doing the deeds expected of Me." Christ will be judged by His deeds.
B. Jesus refrained from blame, and He lavished praise. He will always praise in His ministers the same qualities He found to praise in John. He praises their firm steadfastness. He does not want them to be “reeds shaken in the wind” of a popularity contest. He praises the true prophet who declares His will, and the true messenger who prepares His way.
C. On this Sunday the Church declares that Jesus, who healed the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, who raised the dead and preached good news to the poor, is indeed the promised Savior. The Church invites you, her children, to confess and proclaim your faith in Him and His salvation by eating His Body and drinking His Blood. By eating and drinking this Sacrament you declare that the Redeemer came to save you, that his Body was given and his Blood was shed to purchase for you the forgiveness of your sins, and all the heavenly treasures that are yours because all your sins are forgiven and you are at peace with your heavenly Father. By drinking of the Cup of the New Covenant you participate in that Covenant and have forgiveness, life, and blessedness.
As a participant in the Covenant, however, you have definite obligations. Christ is your King, who has bought you with a price to be His own, to live under Him in His Kingdom. As you now proclaim Christ’s death for you, as you enter once again into the Covenant, you declare that you welcome your King as an obedient subject. You come turning away from your sin and selfishness. And by your life you will show what you have seen and heard, that you have found Christ a loving, glorious Lord and King, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.