I am very glad that the birth of our three youngest children did not take place like that of our first one. Timothy was our first child and with no health concerns about mother or baby the plan was always for Amy to give birth without any surgery.
As Amy approached her due date she showed no signs of going into labor and her blood pressure started to rise. The decision was made to induce labor. But as I have described on another occasion, two attempts at inducement failed. The third time finally worked – but that is not to say things happened quickly. Timothy’s birth was a long ordeal that took several days. It was an unsettling experience that left no question in my mind about how mothers and babies often died in childbirth during earlier periods of history.
When Amy was pregnant with the twins, the experience with Timothy’s birth was still fresh in my mind. I found the thought of doing that twice rather scary. I was therefore relieved when it turned out that one of the babies was turned the wrong way, and the decision was made to deliver them via c section. Amy and I were going to enjoy Memorial Day, with the delivery scheduled for the following day. However that morning her water broke and so she delivered a day early. The experience of the c section was seemed much less stressful. It was only after the fact that I learned that the doctor rapidly delivered Abigail after Matthew because the placenta had been cut. Their birth certificates say they were born a minute apart – it was really more like ten seconds.
Because of the c section with the twins it was a foregone conclusion that Michael would be delivered that way as well. And in his case everything went as planned. This means that only in the birth of one out of our four children, did Amy fully experience what Jesus describes in our text today. Our Lord uses the example of a woman going through the travail of labor in order to talk about the sorrow the Church experiences right now as we wait for Jesus’ return. He acknowledges the difficulty of the present, but contrasts this with the joy that will be ours when he returns.
Our Gospel lesson is part of Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse” that takes up chapters fourteen through seventeen. Jesus begins to prepare his disciples for the fact that he is going to depart from them. They are not always going to have him present in the manner that they have experienced during the previous three years.
In chapter fourteen Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’” Our Lord says clearly that he is going away. He assures them of his peace, but just before our text he acknowledges that this news does not leave them feeling peaceful. He says, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.”
The departure of Jesus is not what the disciples want. And Jesus tells them – and us – what it is going to be like while he is gone. He says in chapter fifteen, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.”
Jesus says that his disciples must expect that the world will hate them. After all, that is how the world reacted to Jesus. In fact the world is so twisted by sin that those of the world will think they are serving God when they seek to kill Christians. Our Lord says at the beginning of this chapter, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me. But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you.”
It is impossible to listen to these words and not think of what happened this past week as Muslims in Libya executed thirty Christians from Ethiopia. Across the Middle East and Africa we see Muslims who think they are serving God when they kill those who worship Jesus Christ, just as Jesus said would happen.
I am thankful that in our country we do not face such direct threats to our lives. But the pressure of our culture to think, speak and act in ways that reject God’s will grows by the day. The reality is we are very good at rationalizing why we watch that show or listen to that music or act in that way or remain silent in that situation. We are very good at justifying ourselves in our own mind. But the truth is that all too often we are just lame. We would rather take the easy way and avoid discomfort of suffering with Jesus. We are too busy entertaining ourselves to death, to bother dying with Jesus.
This is something that we have to confront. We need to confess those ways that we take up the world’s side. We need to confess all of the ways we try to justify our actions. We need to confess all of the ways that we deny Jesus Christ is our Lord and instead make the devil our Lord.
At the end of this chapter Jesus says, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Jesus reminds us that in him we have peace. We have peace because Jesus Christ is the risen Lord who forgives our sins.
Two weeks ago we heard in the Gospel lesson about how on that first Easter evening Jesus appeared in the midst of the disciples and twice said, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. He showed them the marks left by his death on the cross through which he took away the sins of the world. And then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
Jesus showed that we have peace because he has risen from the dead and defeated death. He showed that we have peace because in Holy Absolution he applies his cross to us and takes away our sins – he forgives us.
Now Jesus has departed in his ascension which we will celebrate in a little under two weeks. This is not how we want things to be done. But in this chapter, Jesus says that we are wrong. He says, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
In the mystery God’s working, the departure of the Son enables the sending of the Spirit. It is the Spirit of Jesus who creates faith and applies what Jesus had done for us. It is the Spirit who gave us the apostles’ writings. Jesus said to the apostles, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” It is the Spirit who reveals Jesus as our Savior. Jesus said, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”
It is the Spirit who gave you new life as you were born again in the water of Holy Baptism. The Spirit called you to faith in Jesus Christ and sustains you in that faith. And indeed, the words of our text inspired by the Spirit give us encouragement for the present and hope for the future.
In our text Jesus says to the disciples: “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Jesus says that for now we weep and lament, while the world rejoices. We see what sin does to people and we mourn. The world looks at the sin and rejoices – even calling it “good.” But Jesus says that this will not last forever, and that when he returns in glory and brings the final deliverance it will cause us to forget all the grief.
Our Lord compares this experience to a pregnant woman who gives birth. In the ancient world there was no anesthetic. There was no epidural. A woman experienced the full force of the pain of labor as she gave birth to a child. Jesus says, “When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.”
The woman giving birth has pain and sorrow. Yet when she holds that new born baby there is the joy of having brought a life into the world. Jesus says, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Jesus fully acknowledges the sorrow that is present for us now as we live in this world. But as the risen Lord who has defeated sin, death and the devil he declares that the last word belongs to him. He will return and when that happens our hearts will rejoice and no one will take our joy from us.