3rd Sunday in Advent
December 16, 2018
“The Coming Scandal”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Good Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon today is the Gospel lesson read from Luke chapter 7.
My dear friends,
What does it take for someone or something to offend you? Can you remember the last time you were genuinely offended? How did it make you feel? What was your response? Was it something like, “How dare you!”? “How dare you insult my intelligence!” “How dare you accuse me of wrongdoing!” Did you slap someone with a glove and challenge them to a duel? That would be sweet!
Our Lord Jesus was no stranger to “How dare you!” His earthly ministry lasted only three years, but it was enough time to offend all sorts of people in all sorts of ways. Some, like the Pharisees, were offended by Jesus because he threatened their authority and positions of power. Others, even some of his disciples, were offended because he disappointed them with the way he demonstrated his messianic calling or refusal to. The Gospels record how, time and again, people were scandalized or offended by something Jesus said or did, or even by something he didn’t do.
There were times when his words were just too hard to swallow. In John 6, Jesus proclaims to a crowd of fellow Jews that he is the bread of life, “the bread that came down from heaven” (v 41). That was enough for many to begin grumbling and arguing among themselves. And when Jesus eventually uses the language of eating his flesh and drinking his blood (v 53), “many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (v 66).
At other times it wasn’t Jesus’ words that caused offense; it was what he was doing. Jesus had the audacity to give sight to a blind man on the Sabbath…how dare He! Think how many of the culturally elite took offense as Jesus ate and drank with tax collectors and sinners or when he allowed himself to be associated with prostitutes and Samaritans.
In the end, it wasn’t only what Jesus said and did that caused so many to reject him. For some, what Jesus failed to do caused the greatest offense. Consider all those who greeted the Savior on Palm Sunday, laying down their palm branches and shouting their “hosannas,” believing that Jesus was the conquering hero who would lead them to political and military victory against their Roman oppressors. How disappointed, discouraged, and offended they were when Jesus turned out to be a compassionate and forgiving Messiah, full of mercy and grace and not violence and vengeance. In other words, he wasn’t exactly what they were expecting – what a disgusting, frustrating, scandal! – so when He stood before them the morning of Good Friday, they had no need of Him: “Crucify Him!”
So it is, then, that John the Baptist, sitting in prison by order of Herod the tetrarch, sends two of his disciples to Jesus with the question, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’” (Lk 7:20). A strange, frequently debated question, considering the fact that John was well acquainted with Jesus and was present at the Baptism of Jesus—when God the Father spoke from the clouds and proclaimed Jesus to be his “beloved Son, with whom [he was] well pleased” (Mt 3:17).
So why this question of doubt? Is John wavering in his faith? Or is it his disciples who need to be certain of who Jesus really is? It’s likely that all of them, to some degree, were struggling with the ministry of Jesus. John was in prison, the Romans and other enemies of God were still in power, and nothing extraordinary seemed to be happening. If Jesus was the coming one, he certainly wasn’t living up to their expectations! Quite the scandal…this silent, Messiah King.
Jesus directs their attention to his miracles among the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the poor, and even the dead. And he concludes by saying, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (v 23). “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”
Those words ring loud and clear even in our day, don’t they? We live in a time and place where many are scandalized…offended…by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Sure, in the days leading up to the Christmas celebration, it might seem like the world is less offended than at most other times, but there’s no getting around the fact that for most, Jesus Christ is far too controversial to be included in our holidays, which drives the annual “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays” issue.
Why do we sometimes have a problem when it comes to speaking and living the truth about Jesus? Why are we hesitant to speak of the exclusive claims of Christianity because it’s so scandalous? We’re all guilty. We’ve all acted as though Jesus was offensive to us. You can remember times when we were too squeamish to defend our Christian beliefs when confronted by a neighbor, a co-worker, or a family member. Or what about those times, even now, when Jesus doesn’t exactly live up to our expectations—when our lives seem to be coming apart at the seams and our hope for a brighter future is disappearing?
Why do we so often fail to let our Christian light shine before men? Why do we become so easily discouraged when it comes to matters of faith and Christian hope? Are we afraid? Are we worried about what other people will think of us? Or is it that deep down inside we are worried about what/how to express our faith and, since we don’t want to cause a scandal, it’s easier to just say nothing.
Let me remind you: It’s almost Christmas! It’s almost time to celebrate again what God has done in Jesus Christ. Which is to say, it’s time to confess our sins, lay them at the foot of the cross of Jesus, and then move on by the grace of God!
As we ready ourselves once again this Advent season to hear and believe the message of the Christmas Gospel, blessed are those who are reminded of all their blessings. Rejoice! Blessed are you who have been washed clean in the waters of Holy Baptism. Rejoice! Blessed are you who hear the words of Absolution spoken to your troubled hearts. Rejoice! Blessed are you who receive the body and blood of our Lord for complete forgiveness. Rejoice! Blessed are you who trust in God to be faithful—because he has been, is, and always will be! Rejoice! And again I say to you Rejoice!