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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Advent - 12/11/2016

As has been our custom for the past several years, here in church we get our first telling of the Christmas story from the Sunday School kids and I think it’s a good thing.  It does violate our observance of Advent a little bit, but for any of us it’s good to experience the excitement and wonder of Christmas with children and today in words and song, they’ve shared their Christmas with us.   To add to the Christmas mood, thanks to the property committee and those who came to decorate yesterday, except for the poinsettias the church is fully decked out for Christmas and is beautiful as always.  But still, Advent lasts for four weeks, not two.  John the Baptist doesn’t make it into any children’s Christmas programs but he’s still lurking out there and so is Isaiah and both have words we need to hear.         

Last week we had a confident sounding John the Baptist, calling for repentance, preparing the way, announcing the powerful one who would come after him.  Today it’s a different John, sometime later, in prison, not so confident anymore, wondering if he had it all wrong, sending his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one, or are we to wait for another?”  Despite the enthusiasm of his earlier proclamation, apparently even John questioned whether or not Jesus fit the description of the expected Messiah.

Jesus however, as usual, doesn’t give a straight answer, instead saying to John’s followers, “Go tell him what’s been happening: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor receive good news.”  Basically Jesus was saying that he didn’t fit the expected description of the Messiah but instead was about new life and new possibilities like those announced by the prophet Isaiah, “the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unstopped, the lame will leap like a deer, the tongue of the speechless will sing for joy.”  They’re all signs of dramatic reversals and they are the kind of reversals and new possibilities that Jesus as the Messiah represents.  

In Isaiah though, the verses before the ones that speak of dramatic reversals, do talk about a God of vengeance and terrible recompense.  Maybe that’s as far as John the Baptist had read and that’s why he wondered about Jesus because vengeance and terrible recompense didn’t seem to describe Jesus.  To get the whole picture John should have kept reading.  In Matthew’s telling of things though, even with John’s uncertainty, Jesus had nothing but praise for him, recognizing him as a prophet, even more than a prophet.  “Among those born of women,” Jesus says, “no one was greater than John.”

Jesus knew about prophets.  He knew that they were called to proclaim hope, sometimes in seemingly hopeless situations and that’s largely what we get from the Old Testament prophets during the season of Advent.  But they were also to be truth tellers, announcing judgment when it was called for; but not judgment only for the sake of judgment, but judgment in order to wake people up, to save them from self-destruction.

Whether it was at the time of Isaiah, or the time of John the Baptist and Jesus, or if it’s now, we can be our own worst enemy, straying from the ways God would have us live and instead thinking we’re doing just fine on our own, we don’t need God’s guidance.  Part of the role of a prophet then is to remind all of us that God’s grace, while a free gift, doesn’t represent a free lunch. 

God’s grace is accompanied by God’s law, law that isn’t just things that you’re not supposed to do, law that isn’t intended to merely cast judgment, but law that is intended to keep individuals and the community safe and in the presence of God.  It’s law intended to protect us from the self-destruction we can be prone to.  John the Baptist was rather abrasive in some of his proclamation but Jesus appreciates the fact that sometimes that’s what’s needed to get our attention.  Again it’s what Luther meant when he talked about the need for gospel and law.

Another bit of gospel comes in the last part of the last verse of today’s gospel.  After praising John the Baptist as the greatest of those born of women, Jesus concludes by saying “Yet the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he.”  You always want to pay attention to what comes after little words like “yet.”  “Yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”  In a way it seems to be a contradiction but let’s not worry about that.  Let’s accept Jesus’ “yet” as a gospel word that tells us that as we watch and hope for the new life promised by Jesus, as we anticipate the dramatic reversals represented by the Messiah, we are part of the kingdom he and John announced and in Christ we are received and accepted as “yet” even greater than John himself.  God’s story is often about the least of these, people like Mary and Joseph and the shepherds of the Christmas story who wind up in important roles.  It’s a reminder that there’s a place in the story, there’s a place in the kingdom, for people like us. 

Jesus’ “yet” is yet another word of Advent hope and promise.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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