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Third Sunday in Advent
“To Lighten the Darkness”
St. Matthew 11.2-11
16 December 2018
Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
We come to the third week of Advent, and a third candle has been lit on our wreath. With that we pray today, “Lord Jesus Christ, we implore You to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.” (Collect for Advent III)
The world needs the gracious visitation of the Lord Jesus. Dark hearts abound. Dark times abound. The darkness of evil and wickedness grows in these gray and latter days. Every person is born imprisoned to sin, with a sin darkened heart and perverted mind. So humanity, left to its own darkened heart and soul, only makes things worse. The ongoing slaughter of innocent children to abortion and other perversities prove that the darkness grows.
You know those dark times and dark hearts well. When you’ve rejected God’s Word, said a firm “no” to the Ten Commandments, gone your own way and wondered deeper into the darkness of evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander, those deeds were done in the dark, hoping they are not brought to light.
Sinners like darkness – because you think it will hide your misdeeds from God and from others. Because it is comfortable to side with the darkness. The world appreciates the deeds of the dark. Our sinful heart desires wickedness. It seems we can find comfort and even happiness in that darkness, just leave me alone to do as I please, so many are too comfortable in the darkness.
And then our Lord disciplines us and allows suffering to teach us to look to His light. John goes to prison, even for doing the right thing, calling Herod to repent of his adultery with his brother’s wife. John will die for preaching Christ rightly. No doubt the dark prison he sat in waiting to be killed brought doubts and questions both to John and his disciples. There are other prisons and threats. Dark times come at the hands of cancer, dimentia and other debilitating diseases, bodies break down and die. God-fearing men, women and children lose their lives at the hands and swords of evil men, or to merciless and sudden disaster. The darkness of this life seems to have no escape, it seems so pervasive, as if there is no light at the end of any tunnel.
So, Lord Jesus, we implore You, to hear our prayers and to lighten the darkness of our hearts by Your gracious visitation.
Bring in some light to these dark times, Lord Jesus. John needs to hear the Gospel in his own dark prison time. John’s disciples need to be comforted in their despair. With them, we all need pointed to the light.
Even in prison, even assailed by doubt and fear, faith coexists. John’s faith, the Holy Spirit at work, knew where to find light in dark times. Israel was expecting that the Christ was coming. They even asked John if he were the Christ. But John had consistently answered them “no”: “I baptize you with water, but He who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (Lk. 3:15-16; ESV)
The prophet and the preacher’s job is to point to the true light coming into the world, not to himself. Only God’s Son come down from heaven enlightens darkness with real light – the fiery, purifying work of the Holy Spirit. True preachers like John the Baptist preach Christ, the Light of the World, and the Holy Spirit goes forth with that preaching calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying children of light out of the pervading darkness.
Jesus gives the answer to their hopes and fears and expectations, in their search for light in dark times. He is the one who has come to bring light for these dark times. Just look at His words and deeds:
“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.” Jesus is indeed the one who fulfills the prophets’ consistent description of the Christ. Deeds are done that only the one, true God, can do, and only Jesus does them purely at His own command. He is God, in the flesh, come to visit His people graciously, not as a stern judge, not to be served by all, but instead to be the servant of all, showing mercy and kindness, enlightening dark times and darkened hearts.
And blessed is the one who is not offended, not scandalized by the Light of the World, the lowly man from Nazareth, who suffered an even lowlier birth in Bethlehem’s manger, who suffered in the darkness on His cross at Calvary.
There, on the darkest of all days, when the sun was hidden in the middle of the day, when the darkness of our sin and all of our suffering was falling under God’s wrath and judgment, there Jesus suffered true darkness, true suffering, true imprisonment, true death. There God Himself graciously visited the cross and grave and suffered the darkness and death all men deserved. Jesus, God’s Son and Mary’s Son, and John’s cousin, and your flesh and blood brother human, suffered the darkness of death, innocently, for your salvation.
On Good Friday each year, at the Tenebrae service, we signify this as the one last lit candle on the hearse is removed from the sanctuary for a time, reminding us that our Lord was buried for a time in our grave, yet, after the strepitus noise is made symbolizing the closing of Jesus’ grave, the light is returned. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1.5)
So, is Jesus the one who has come into the world to enlighten our dark times, or should we look for another?
John the Baptizer and all the prophets and apostles, and all the servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God say with one accord: there is no other. Christ is the one, for He has risen, He has risen indeed. He is identifiable by His words and deeds. You who were once blind have received your eyes of faith, you who were once deaf to the Word of God have been given ears to hear His voice, and you who were once under the curse of death have been given the promise and hope of eternal life. You, who once lived in darkness, have been brought into His marvelous light.
This world is wrapped in fear, even embraces the darkness. Do not fear that. It is what it is but the night is far spent. The evening shadows are being dispelled. It is the dawn of the eternal resurrection day. The true light has come, and you live there by faith in Christ, and you will live there. For even as our Lord once came graciously to deliver and redeem us from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, from cradle to cross and tomb, and even as He does now so graciously visits us in His Church with pardon down from heaven, so when next He comes in glory He will shield us with His mercy, and with words of love draw near – “Arise, children of the day. The light that never wanes is here, it is the eternal day.”
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +