Today we lit the pink Advent candle. That pink is a different, less somber color than the other ones. The purple candles are dark, somber ones reminding us that Advent is a penitential season. It is a season that calls us to reflect on our sins so that we long to hear the message of the angel about newborn Jesus: There is born for you this day... a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Otherwise, what would be the point of Christmas; otherwise, we might as well join the rest of the world in seeing Christmas as some early winter holiday for the purpose of making merry--for no reason other than to do it-- in an otherwise grey and dreary season; otherwise we might as well focus on the commercialism and strive to make it more commercial every year. But we have Advent. We have Advent’s call to prepare our hearts and minds for the Savior whose first coming to be our Savior we celebrate at Christmas; we prepare our hearts and minds to receive Jesus as He comes to us today in His holy word and sacrament; we prepare our hearts and minds to welcome Jesus when He comes again on the Last Day. That’s why the time of quiet reflection on our sin and our need for a Savior is so vital--and that’s why the season of Advent is so vital. Yes, we are to examine heart, life, conscience daily; but in Advent we do it all the more fervently in anticipation of the announcement of the Christmas Gospel, that Jesus our Savior has come!
But the season of Advent is not doom and gloom--sin, sorrow and repentance. It is a season of hope! It is a season of joy because we are awaiting the return of the One who in great love and mercy came to us to be our Savior. That’s why the pink candle--even in the midst of our repentance we have a great joy. That joy gives form and focus to our lives every day--in Advent and outside of Advent. What does St. Paul tell us here in today’s epistle? Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice! And yes, in the midst of our sorrows and sufferings we need that constant reminder: Rejoice! But why do we rejoice? The Lord is near. Not only was Jesus born for us that first Christmas, but He has come to us/ drawn near to us dwelling in our hearts by faith! So look at the Advent wreath and see that pink candle and there be reminded of the joy and hope that is always ours in Christ. Hear St. Paul in our epistle: Rejoice in the Lord always! I will say it again: Rejoice! Hear again our OT reading: The LOrd is in your midst! You no longer need to fear disaster.
In the Gospel we see St. John the Baptizer in prison because he pointed out the sins of Herod--including his adultery-- and called him to repent. Even in that situation, what does he do in his joy in Jesus? --He sends his disciples to ask Jesus who He is, if He is the Savior, so that they can hear for themselves from Jesus’ own mouth who He is and so follow Him, not John. That’s the joy of faith, dear Christian! --Even in the midst of great suffering. --A joy that is grounded in Jesus.
Notice that Jesus praises John as the great forerunner, the one prophesied in the OT who would prepare the way for Jesus by preaching that message of repentance over sin and pointing to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. But even with that high work and praise, Jesus still says: among those born of women there is no prophet greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. John could point to Jesus as the long awaited Savior, but John would be killed before Jesus carried out His saving work. He would not see it completed. But we, the least in the kingdom of God, are greater than John because we live in the time that the salvation of the world is an accomplished fact. Jesus died for our sins, reconciled us sinners to the holy God and rose from the dead and ascended into heaven opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers. That’s something John and all the OT saints longed to see but didn’t. How blessed we are to live in the age when Jesus’ saving work isn’t just a promise but a firm, certain historical fact! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than [John].
Then our Gospel continues: When all the people [including the tax collectors] heard this, they declared that God was just, since they were baptized with the baptism of John. There we see--many people, yes, welcomed and received Jesus, praising God; But the Pharisees and the legal experts rejected God’s purpose for themselves by not being baptized by him--but also many did not. Here is a call for each one of us to examine our own heart and conscience. Jesus came and was there in the midst of the people doing miracles that confirmed His preaching that He is the Son of God and Savior of the world--but many, especially those who should have known better, the religious leaders of the Jews--the Pharisees and scribes--rejected. They did not welcome Jesus. What about us today? That’s the question each must answer for him/herself this Advent: do I welcome Jesus this Advent? The thing is--and Advent reminds us of this--Jesus comes to us today in His holy word and sacrament to create and strengthen faith. Do I welcome Him? Am I here in church to receive Him and His gifts--or is church an afterthought? Do I read His holy word at home? Do I think of and reflect on the word throughout the day? Do I judge all that I see and hear according to God’s Word? Do I humble myself and repent of my sins as I feel God’s holy word of Law accusing me? Do pray daily and often, speaking to God? Not all to whom Jesus comes, welcome Him--both then, during His earthly ministry, and today as He comes in His word and sacrament. That should cause all of us to stop and reflect this Advent.
Just like it was when Jesus came the first time, so is it still today when Jesus comes in His word and sacrament--it is in grace and mercy! Of course, when He comes on the Last Day it will be in judgment; but now it is in grace! That’s why the vital question each of us must answer for ourselves is: do I welcome Jesus this Advent? Just because Jesus comes--just because we have His word, just because I may on occasion be in church-- and just because I call myself a Christian does that mean I am welcoming Jesus this Advent, or anytime? Our text: But the Pharisees and the legal experts rejected God’s purpose for themselves by not being baptized by him.
Notice: by not welcoming Jesus what did they/ what do we do? --Reject God’s purposes for us. The purpose/ the counsel of God can be rejected; we can reject God’s desire for us. The fact is this: God cares for us and is concerned for our salvation. Holy Scripture is very clear [1 Ti 2.3,4]: God our Savior...desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. Do you think God was serious when through St. John the forerunner He called people to repentance and faith? Of course! Do you think Jesus was serious when He preached and called people to repentance, that He was serious in offering them the forgiveness of sins and eternal life? --Of course! That was God’s purpose/ counsel for them--to save them. But the Pharisees and the legal experts rejected God’s purpose for themselves by not being baptized by him.
God desires and intends even that which never happens. He wants all to be saved; Jesus died for all; the sins of all are forgiven. But will all people one day be in heaven, soul and glorified body and beholding God? No! There will, sadly, be many, in fact the majority of people in the eternal torments of hell. Even though God wants all to be saved, we can frustrate God’s purpose/ counsel/ will. Hear again Jesus’ sad words He spoke to the people of Jerusalem during Holy Week [Mt. 23.37]: How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Hear St. Paul speaking to the Jews [Ac 13.46]: It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. We are not machines or robots that God made; He doesn’t force us to believe. We can--and most do--reject His counsel/ purpose. But the Pharisees and the legal experts rejected God’s purpose for themselves by not being baptized by him. They saw no need for baptism, that is, they saw no need to confess their sin and to trust in a Savior from sin--and so God’s will was frustrated and Jesus was not welcomed when He came to them in grace.
Jesus then says in our text: To what then will I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance. We sang a dirge, and you did not weep.’ For John the Baptizer has come without eating bread or drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, aman who is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
Jesus compares the people of this generation, that is, not only the stiff-necked Pharisees and their sort but all who reject God’s desire to save them by grace through faith in Jesus --He compares them to spoiled and self-willed children: no game that their playmates suggest is good. When John the Baptizer came preaching a message of repentance and lived an austere life, they rejected him and his message; when Jesus with grace and forgiveness for the penitent and ate with “sinners”, they rejected Him too. The people of this generation reject the condemnation of the Law--oh, I’m not that bad, or they no longer call sin “sin”, or they explain away their sin, or make it a civil right; or they reject the mercy of the Gospel--oh, you have to do something, or how can just believing in Jesus save a person, or there’s no way I could be forgiven after all the bad things I did; or the opposite, Christianity isn’t relevant in the modern world. No matter what way God works through--either the Law or the Gospel--the people of this generation will find a reason to reject. But just like the prophets, John the Baptizer, and Jesus Himself, let us in our world today simply keep telling the good news about Jesus. Let us with patience and steadfastness teach and preach and carry out what God asks us to do and leave the rest to Him. According to the fault-finders, the Church/ Christians have always been wrong. But what they say hasn’t harmed Jesus or His Church; they only close the door of hope and salvation on themselves.
Here is a warning for us. We can reject God’s grace; we can--even if we are believers now--turn from God’s grace. Advent calls on us for humility. We dare never think we are above the people of this generation, rejecting the Lord. Instead, let us this Advent earnestly examine our hearts and lives, recognize our sin and long for a Savior from sin. Only when we recognize our sin and that our sins earn us God’s wrath and condemnation will we long for a Savior from sin! And what joyous news: Jesus is that Savior! He was born that first Christmas and has come to us in grace and mercy with forgiveness and healing. He is near us today--in His holy word and sacrament offering us/ giving us all these heavenly and spiritual blessings He won for us by His life, suffering and death. Let us run to meet and welcome Him in His holy word and sacrament. Let us welcome Him anew and afresh this Advent season!
Jesus says: Yet wisdom is declared right by all her children. Our Lord’s dear Christian--you and me--we are his children and declare Jesus, the holy wisdom, to be right. By our faith we, dear Christian, are saying “Yea and Amen” to all of our Lord’s promises and work; by our faith we are praising and declaring that He is right; by our faith we are declaring His way of salvation right, that has done everything for us to save us. The fact that we are Christians means that we declare ourselves to be sinners but Jesus has come for us and we welcome Him. INJ