When Life Falls Apart: A Sermon for Gaudete

Baptist beheaded (Gaudete)We are by nature liturgical beings. We’re creatures of habit. Routine can be boring at times, but without stability there’s chaos.

Every night, it seems, Tiffinie and I go through the same ritual with our children. Eat dinner, clean up the toys, bath, reading, prayers, and then the inevitable question: “What are we doing tomorrow?”And then comes the usual response, “I don’t know. School,” followed by the obligatory weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.

We all like to make plans—for the day, for the week, the year, even our lives.  But not every task on the agenda is going to be the most exciting, and sometimes our plans fall apart. In our house, usually Joshua’s plans involve devoting some serious time to Lego building, while Ruth takes the other children to “Ruth school,” where she teaches them to act just like her.

But when Joshua’s architectural skill building time is cut short, or Ruth only has enough time to teach “rooster crowing 101” before dismissing her pupils, the complaining begins: “Today is NOT my favorite day.”

We’ve all felt this way. More than once I’ve thought, “Today isn’t my favorite day.” And sometimes, it’s not just a day. It can be a week, or a month, or maybe even years. It can be a bad day at work, a favorite team losing game 7, depression or some medical issue, or the death of a loved one. We all have our fair share of not-favorite days.

Israel’s plans sure fell apart in 586BC when they were taken captive by Babylon and forced into exile. Their anguish is recorded in Psalm 137: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.”

The mere thought of a happier time was enough to send Israel into tears. When they thought back to how life was before the exile, all they could do was sit and weep. The trauma of losing the land God had given them—their home, the Promised Land—left a painful scar that would hurt for the rest of their lives.

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. More often than not, it seems it doesn’t. Pressures and responsibilities prevent us from giving as much time and attention to the things that really matter, like God’s Word and our relationships. Things that are entirely out of our control—things like the economy, the weather, the behavior of others—these things can cause us no end of trouble. Terrorism and senseless acts of violence fill the news, and sometimes they affect us personally.

If you plans haven’t fallen apart already, rest assured, they will. Dust you are, and to dust you will return, and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Everything under the sun is like a passing vapor. Generations come and generations go, and the world just keeps on turning.

Even St. John the Baptist’s plans failed. You’d think if anybody’s life should have been on track, it would have been his. He was the one who prepared the way for the Messiah. He did his job faithfully. He pointed to Christ and confessed, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” He wasn’t afraid of upsetting the wrong people. He used nicknames like “brood of vipers” for the clergy of his day, and had the audacity to address his sovereign with such titles as “lawbreaker” and “adulterer.”

John’s faithfulness got him one-way ticket to the crowbar hotel. Needless to say, life weren’t going according to plan. Before long, the only thing he’d be resting his head on was a silver platter.

All this on a day when the liturgy instructs us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” How can Advent be a season of hope and joy when life is filled with so much chaos? Wouldn’t it be more fitting to put out the black paraments and mourn without ceasing?

So who could blame John for sending his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the One who is to Come, or shall we look for another?” What sort of Messiah allows his disciples to be treated like this?

The kind who died to put an end to your suffering. Even when life isn’t going according to plan, you can rejoice, because it’s God’s pleasure to raise you up out of the ashes of your brokenness. Where His Son’s corpse was once decaying in a tomb, God raised Him up back to life. Our plans come to nothing, but God has plans for you, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you,” Jeremiah says, “plans to give you hope and a future.”

Today is a Day to rejoice, because this is the Day the Lord has made. This is His Day, the Day of the empty tomb, the Day when He brought life out of the ashes of death.  Today He comes to you with His Body and Blood salvation, to assure you that His plans for you will never fail. This is why Isaiah could look at the broken exiles and say, “Comfort, comfort ye my people.”

Every day is a gift from the Lord, good, bad, and ordinary. He has given you today, and an eternity of todays through His Son—days where there will be no more sin or sorrow, days filled with nothing but life and joy. Then you won’t need to be reminded to cling to Christ and rejoice always, because that’s all there will be left to do.

Soli Deo Gloria

+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Matthew 11:2–10
Gaudete, 2015: “When Life Falls Apart”
Zion, Summit
Immanuel, Hodgkins
Around the Word Bible Studies

Categories: Sermons

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