Advent 3, 2016
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.
Today in this third Sunday in Advent, our attention is focused on the heralding of the coming of Christ and the one who we know who was the great…. first-and-foremost herald among heralds….John the Baptist.
This is the work and calling of the Christian ministry and minister as Paul tells us today.
This is also the work of all Christians.
Heralding the coming (again) of Christ.
The lessons and Collect today function in one sense as a continuation and a furthering of the concepts we got last Sunday.
The ministers, as we saw, are entrusted not to entertain, amuse, flatter or woo the people but are sent to proclaim to the people the message of salvation that the Holy Scriptures put forth in both Old and New Testaments.
There have been heralds in every age that God has raised up. Many are rejected. Some are killed. Some are imprisoned as we see John the Baptist is today.
What landed John in prison? He opposed the highest authorities in the area. He preached openly, which brought curiosity and attention.
But when John chastised Herod for marrying Herod’s brother’s wife, (his sister-in-law) Herod had to remove him from the public eye. Herod as we know later, on a promise…. gets cornered into beheading John.
But today, John is still alive. He is still sitting in prison.
Now in our prayer for today, we ask that God would give grace and power to those who are the ministers of the Gospel and stewards of God’s mysteries, …that they may by their teaching and preaching, make ready the way for Christ’s Second Coming, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just…so that when Christ does return He may find us an “acceptable people.”
This is what Advent is about. This is what all of the seasons of the Church are about.
The event in reality is something that has happened already.
Christmas, the birth of Christ.
Easter, the resurrection of Christ. Ascension…the Ascending of Christ to the right hand of the Father.
Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Church …and so on.
All of these things, though past events, are repeatedly celebrated and brought back to mind on a yearly basis….because they mark something still future for all of us.
In reverse order, Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit is fulfilled even in our day and age as the Holy Spirit fills and empowers each of us.
Recalling the Ascension of Christ reminds us that He will come again….descending from Heaven, and we…. will ascend up to Heaven with to be with Him.
Easter and the Resurrection of Christ remind us that if we are in Christ by faith, we too will rise after we die as well.
Christmas (and really Advent) remind us of Christ coming down to us, to bring reconciliation between us and the Father…
and it teaches us that though Advent is only 4 weeks of preparation, we really are to live our entire lives as Advent People…preparing the way of the Lord.
Preparing and making ready the way, says the Collect, is done by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just.
Strange phrasing. Strange way to put it….but only because its language that we don't use.
Massey Shepherd in the Oxford Prayer Book Commentary translates it for us by phrasing it this way, “by turning the hearts of the unrepentant and disobedient to the life of righteousness…”
So that when Christ comes again we may be accepted into His Kingdom.
So Advent is recalling the coming of Christ the first time and preparing for His return… is similar to the anticipation at the time and the crying out by John the Baptist to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
Today the message of the Gospel is to every person in every nation and of every tongue and tribe…to repent and believe the Gospel, for Christ is coming again and He is coming to gather those who are living faithfully to Him in a life of repentance and righteous living.
But what about John?
“Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “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.”
Bishop Ryle says, “There were some, no doubt, who were disposed to think lightly of John Baptist, partly from ignorance of the nature of his ministry, partly from misunderstanding the question he had sent to ask. Our Lord Jesus silences such cavillers by the declaration he here makes. He tells them not to suppose that John was a timid, vacillating, unstable man, “a reed shaken by the wind.” If they thought so, they were utterly mistaken. He was a bold, unflinching witness to the truth.—He tells them not to suppose that John was at heart a worldly man, fond of king’s courts, and delicate living. If they thought so, they greatly erred. He was a self-denying preacher of repentance, who would risk the anger of a king, rather than not reprove his sins.”
Part of the preparation for the coming of Christ again, is to take stock of our own life in Him. Take stock of our witness to the faith.
Take stock of how seriously we take the fact that Christ is coming again.
He is coming to gather His elect.
What will He find when He arrives if we are alive at the time of His arrival?
We are stewards of the treasures and mysteries of Christ’s salvation. Paul says today that “…it is required of stewards (of those mysteries) that they be found faithful.”
In the immediate context here, he is still referring to the ministers of the Gospel that they be found faithfully executing their office and preaching and teaching with accuracy and fervency.
Yet the call is to all Christians to be stewards of the mysteries of the faith.
Mystery in the Bible means something that was hidden at one time and is now revealed.
This is what we are handling as Christians. A faith that is now revealed and is to be heralded to the world.
Jesus defended John the Baptist …though imprisoned on this same count…being a herald.
John preached a message of repentance and preparedness.
He was Christ’s Herald to the people at that time.
His ministry was to be the ultimate….revealer of the mystery that is God’s unfolding redemptive plan in the Messiah Jesus Christ.
And he did so as St. Paul commands…as one who was faithful.
There is quite a difference of opinion amongst commentators about John sending his disciples to Jesus to ask if Jesus truly was the Messiah to come or were they to look to one another.
Some say John’s faith was wavering in prison and he wanted to be sure he had not placed his faith in the wrong person.
Others argue that John was completely fine with what he believed about Jesus, since he not too long before, proclaimed to Jesus that He was the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.
….and that he was merely sending his own disciples to Jesus to allow them to have their faith lifted since their teacher, John, was in prison.
Jesus says at this point, “As John’s disciples went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” (Matthew 11:7-9 ESV)
Jesus in essence defends John’s message and integrity.
You all went out to hear this man.
You all were curious enough to seek him out and listen to his message.
And what did you find?
A weak and timid man? No!
A man who desired to live in the lap of luxury? No!
No you found a man, sent by God, preparing the way before His Messiah, being a faithful steward of the mystery that is now revealed…
…preparing the hearts of men by a serious and earnest message of repentance and turning from sin.
Why was he doing all of this?
So that some might in fact come to faith and repent and believe and begin to prepare their own way…their own hearts, which is the path the Spirit uses to bring Christ to us….through our hearts.
So as we contemplate His coming the first time for the people of His day and the beginning of the salvation of mankind, and as we contemplate the Second Coming….for us, may we be faithful laborers, in His vineyard, working for the Kingdom of God, preparing our hearts and upon His arrival may He find us an acceptable people.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 Ryle, J. C. (1860). Expository Thoughts on Matthew (pp. 110–111). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.