Friday, December 10, 2010
Sermon Notes for Third Sunday in Advent: A Scandalous Christmas
The Scandal of Jesus
Third Sunday in Advent
December 12, 2010
There are many dark sides to our celebrity worshipping culture, not the least of which is the shameless desire of many to peer into the privacy of these idolized celebrities. It doesn’t matter whether they are athletes, pop stars, politicians, or actors, TMZ and the National Enquirer are ready to pry into the private reality that lies behind the public image and drag it all out into the open for everyone to see. They pay top dollar for that information – and even more for pictures that prove the scoop to be true. Like gossip, there is something deliciously enticing about a juicy scandal. Are people’s lives really so boring – really! – that they get excited about the inside dish on others? I guess so. Why? We like scandal because it unmasks apparent hypocrisy. Of course, such continual scandal creates a culture of cynicism where the skeptic and doubter are kings.
I wonder what TMZ would do with Jesus. I have no doubt they would have a field day. Jesus after all was a scandalous individual; he just wasn’t what everyone expected in a Messiah – and he knew that too.
“Blessed is the one who is not scandalized by me” – Matthew 11:6
That’s the word behind ‘stumbling block’ – scandal.
Jesus didn’t look like the Messiah everyone was expecting. It would be easy to find him disappointing or offensive rather than see in him the Son of God. People today are no different. They – we! – have the Jesus we expect and worship, but he turns out to be someone very different than the idol we have fashioned with our imagination.
John the Baptist was in prison and he’d heard about all Jesus was doing – healing disease and reversing death, bringing blessing to Israel through his Gospel. That didn’t seem to quite fit with John’s idea of the Messiah’s mission.
“Are you really the One? I thought you came to bring down the House and pour out fire on Israel. That’s the Messiah’s mission that I announced. Yet you aren’t doing any of that. You’re not judging; you’re healing! Maybe we should look for someone else?”
* From Elizabeth’s womb to Herod’s prison; from exultatio to bewilderment: this is the path we all tread, moving from infant faith to deep questions and finally to the rest of assured trust.
* Our illusions of Jesus are shattered and we are brought by mercy to lasting faith that cannot be shaken even by prison walls and threats of violence.
That also means we come to the place where we are no longer moved by the fashionable opinion of conventional wisdom and faddish winds. This Faith that embraces the scandal of Jesus cannot be scandalized any more. We become content with our prisons and even our death because, as Paul said, “I know in whom I have believed.”
Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah foretold that the Messiah would come as a ‘Stone of stumbling and a rock of offense’; that he would be ‘the stone which the builders rejected but has become the Chief Cornerstone’ by which everything is held together. Rejected by many, stumbled over, he is exalted to the highest place. The rest of that prophecy in Isaiah, and Paul quotes it over in Romans 9, is that the person who trusts in that rock, that scandalous stone, will never be put to shame. Those are the only two alternatives with Jesus: we either stumble over his scandal and die, or we trust in his scandal and find life.
I. The Scandal of his Birth – Matthew 1:18-21
The Humiliation of Christ
The Humiliation of Mary and Joseph
II. The Scandal of his Ministry – Matthew 11:2-5
Welcoming the Marginal and Rejected
Confronting the Powerful
-Human and otherwise!
-Liberating from the chains no man could loose (Isaiah 35)
III. The Scandal of his Death – Matthew 11:6
The Cross – Scandal and Salvation: Galatians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 1:23
The Cross – Scandal and Cornerstone: Job 38:6; 1 Peter 2:4-8
* This is our message and it cannot be dressed up to be made more palatable.
Let me offer you then three central truths to embrace so that you too can have a scandalous Christmas and New Year.
1. There’s nothing scandalous about a baby – at first glance! But this baby, and this birth, was scandalous then and remains so today, for the One who is born is also the Eternal God who overthrows all challengers to his Kingdom. His disciples share in that scandal and should not be surprised when the powers of our age mock our steadfast refusal to bow to their gods of so-called tolerance (which are nothing more than idols of a new tyranny).
2. The Church’s Mission is to make the Gospel clear not acceptable. Only God can open the heart to the truth of the Cross of Christ. “We preach Christ and him crucified” remains the testimony of the faithful church, whatever the fashionable church may say. The Cross remains central in all things and will forever. At the center of the throne is a Lamb as if slain! At the center of this Church is a Cross and a Table from where Christ’s death is proclaimed every Lord’s Day. Sacrament is not an optional extra but stands at the center of the Church’s life and work.
3. Count on Jesus leading us to hard places where the false idols of Jesus we construct are demolished by his tender mercy. He will shatter our false paradigms and theological expectations that filter out his truth. Like John, our initial excitement will also lead to hard places where our faith is deepened as we come to know the reality of the Savior. He is NOT like us, but does call us to be like him.
There are only two choices before us today. We either bow before the stone the builders rejected and put our trust in him, or we stumble over him, scandalized by his matchless love. We either bow or stumble. Blessed is the man who does not stumble. Blessed is the man who bows the knee and trusts in Christ.