This passage from Saint Matthew highlights the Advent theme that Christ Jesus is the “Coming One”. He came in human flesh. He comes in His Word. He comes again on clouds of glory. His work centers around His desire to not leave mankind in darkness and the prison house of death. Instead, He comes to us with His gifts, working miracles of healing upon us so that sin and hell cannot destroy us.
In Advent we may rightly ask, “Since Christ is the One who comes to us, how should we prepare for His coming? And how do we faithfully respond to His coming?”
Of course, once you have asked the question this way, it pretty much answers itself. To be prepared for Christ’s coming, be faithful to Christ. This means to be faithful to His Word.
But Pastor, that sounds so easy! We would never be unfaithful to the Word of Christ!
If only it were that easy. Like Saint Peter in the Garden, our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak. We intend great things, but we often fall asleep on the job.
The opposite of faithfulness to the Word of Christ is to take offense at it. If you refuse to take offense, then you are blessed, as Christ says to us today.
But there is much at which to take offense. Human flesh and human reason find many occasions to be upset at what the Word says. Most everything about Christ is found to be offensive by someone. To be clear, it is not Christ who is offensive. But our flesh colors something as wrong which is actually pure and good.
Human flesh looks to the Cross and sees a man hanging there in weakness and pain. Is this the Son of God? asks sinful reason. Can this be the only Savior of the world? It sure doesn’t look that way to the human mind. Particularly, people stumble at the word “Only”. Men would much rather believe that Christ is ONE way among many. But the “only” One? Certainly not!
Human flesh looks at the Church and sees a pathetic little group. We are weak and despised. We are often seen to be sinners and hypocrites. Could these be the saints of God who possess His righteousness in Christ? Certainly not! says human reason.
Now, so far we are in pretty good shape. What I mean is that, as believers, we recognize Christ and the Cross as the sweetest sight because they are the Good News of God’s mercy. We see redemption where the sinful world sees offense. When we look at our brothers and sisters, we usually see the Body of Christ. We understand that we are not perfect in this world by any means. We forgive and love one another because Christ has so loved us.
The harder offense for us believers often happens when the offense of the world comes to us. When the world is not content to ignore or put up with us, then they begin to treat us the way they treated Saint John the Baptizer. John spoke God’s Word to sinners, including the crushing hammer of the Law which is meant to bring lost souls to repentance so that they turn to the Gospel and live. But some of the more unrepentant ones took offense at him. They would not tolerate him, but threw him in jail and eventually relieved him of his head.
John in prison surely felt the dark weight of gloom of being under the sinful world’s condemnation. He had spoken God’s Word as he was supposed to, and now he was languishing in a cell until his death. If we imagine ourselves in that situation, we might hope that we would cheerfully face our prospects with joy for the privilege of suffering for Christ. But sinful feelings do not follow that optimistic spirit.
John’s disciples likely also felt deep sadness that their leader was suffering at the hands of wicked men. Such injustice! A hideous transgressor like Herod should not have the power to condemn a righteous prophet like John.
Was THIS the kingdom of the Coming One? Was this what things would be like once Christ has come? Would the whole world be filled with unjust suffering for His saints?
And the answer is Yes. If we are faithful to Christ and His Word, sooner or later we will find ourselves at the receiving end of the world’s anger. We will feel the sting of injustice when we must suffer for doing the right thing.
So when we face that offensive situation, what will we do? Will we be faithful? Will we speak the Word in clarity and truth? Or will we schwaffle a bit in order to get along with others? Compromise a little today, and maybe the world will get along with us tomorrow?
Will we be a reed blown about in the wind? Will the world push us around so that we give in on the truth? Will we trade our suffering for comfort and soft clothes? Or will we suffer poverty and discomfort and pain because of our faithfulness?
God help us to not feel the offense that comes when we speak His Word faithfully.
When you feel the sting of this world’s persecution, then turn your eyes to the Cross. The exact place that is so offensive to the world is our comfort. On the Cross, Christ was purchasing for us eternal healing. He gave glimpses of that healing in His miracles: sight to the blind, strong legs to the lame, cleansing for lepers, hearing for the deaf. All the effects of sin upon this world are to be reversed and canceled out by the healing of the Son of God, the Coming One. He came and comes and will come to bring eternal health without disease or pain or sorrow.
More than that, He gives resurrection. The three resurrections He performed in His lifetime were the young man at Nain, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus. But they were only a foretaste of the greater resurrection. The resurrection that He gives to those who believe in Him is an eternal resurrection to deathlessness. The grave’s power will be reversed and abolished for us. How could the death and rising of the Son of God purchase anything less for us?
This is the good news of salvation for all who have faith. How could we be unfaithful to this? We simply must be faithful to the life and goodness of Christ who is the Life of all the living. Shall we bow the knee to the powers of this world of death? The One who is with us is greater than the world. He is Light and purity and righteousness. Shall we fear the wickedness of this world? Shall we fear temporary pains the world inflicts when God has freely given us eternity?
Indeed, let us faithfully speak as John did. Let us be willing to suffer and take no offense at the cross we must bear. How could we be unfaithful to He who came into flesh to redeem us? How could we be offended at He who comes to speak to us and feed us, even now? How shall we be offended at He who comes soon to take us to our eternal home?
Until then, God strengthen us for the task before us. Amen.
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