December 14, 2016
Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34
That evening they brought to him many who were possessed with demons; and he cast out the spirits with a word, and cured all who were sick. This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “He took our infirmities and bore our diseases.”
The Gospel reading today emphasizes the theme of healing. Many congregations hold healing services occasionally. Advent is an opportune time to emphasize the healing ministries of the church.
I’ve always considered the following explanation about the church’s ministry of healing helpful. It is taken from the introduction to the healing ritual found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship.
In its ministry of healing, the church does not replace the gifts of God that come through the scientific community, nor does it promise a cure. The church offers and celebrates gifts such as these: God’s presence with strength and comfort in time of suffering, God’s promise of wholeness and peace, and God’s love embodied in the community of faith. [i]
In today’s Gospel reading there are two references to Jesus casting out demons. It’s easy for us to dismiss stories about demons because our sophisticated society has an explanation for everything to the point that we relegate demons to science fiction and figments of the imagination.
But we are all possessed by demons of some sort. Demons are those malicious forces that are deceptive, destructive, and totally opposed to the good and gracious will of God. Memories of parental neglect or abuse of some sort simmer in our sub consciousness. We go through life suppressing memories of childhood taunts and humiliations. We live with constant what-ifs, whether it be career choices, romantic choices; knowledge of one’s failures and imperfections. All of these things, and this is not an exclusive list, can become demons that possess and lead to harmful and even destructive thinking.
Jesus is the answer in the battle to conquer our own personal demons.
Sometimes our lives may seem full of rejections. We may think that we are terrible, rotten, ugly people. Jesus doesn’t think so. To him, there are no such folks. Whomever he touches becomes clean and holy and beautiful.
You were made clean at the waters of baptism. From that time on, Jesus welcomes you at the table of mercy, the banquet of grace; where he continuously offers you healing and wholeness in the sacrament that we share.
Jesus acts out of his compassion. He embraces and blesses the individuals. He feels their desperation and demonstrates that his healing is more than physical. It is more than a magical or medicinal touch; it is a life-changing encounter. Healing is peace and acceptance in the face of disappointment. Healing is an awareness of the continuing presence of God in our lives, especially in times of despair.
So Advent is indeed a time to address those demons in us that need to be cast out, and with faith in Christ, we can help cleanse and restore ourselves and those who are in need of healing – those who feel rejected or are in a state of despair.
Through the ministry of healing, we as a Christian community can alter the conditions of people’s lives. We can bring healing into troubled circumstances. We can be advocates for life-giving meaning and change.
We can bring ourselves and others before Christ and pray for healing and pray for cleansing.
We can treat one another as we would desire to be treated we can love one another as God loves us, we can love one another as we love ourselves, we can love one another without fear.
God was with Christ and gave him power and authority over the most dreaded diseases of his day.
And God is with Christ still, to cleanse us and our world, and to make us part of one family, to restore us fully to one another and to himself in life, in death, and in life beyond death.
[i]Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 276