3rd Sunday in Advent
December 15, 2013
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John, that powerhouse we met last week is in prison. He shouldn’t have been surprised, as he took his job as truth-teller seriously. You can’t get away with publically taking power=hungry dictators to task for their disregard of propriety. It’s pretty clear that things are not going well for John. But what surprises me is his question. In last week’s story, he claimed his destiny as the new Elijah, the prophet who comes to announce the presence of the Messiah. He was fearless and certain of his own position and of the identity of Jesus as the long-awaited Savior. I expected him to still be so certain.
What’s happened in the meantime to make John send his disciples out to ask? Or is something else going on. Sometimes the Gospels are so frustrating. They never want to tell us what we really want to know, and I often find myself wanting to call up the writer and say, “hey, you left something out! What happened here?” Is John asking because he suddenly doubts that Jesus is really the promised Messiah? Did John buy into that expectation that Jesus would be a political Savior, like so many of the Church leaders of his day? Were things moving too slowly for John, and he wanted to know when Jesus would start shaking things up more? Maybe he was impatient, and faced with his own impending end, he wanted to know if he would see the coming Reign of God before Herod had him killed. Whatever the reason, John wants to hear from Jesus own lips the assurance that Jesus is truly the Son of God, the Messiah.
And Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah, whose words we heard this morning. “Tell John what you see and hear: the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead live, and the poor hear the Good News of God’s favor, and those who trust in me are blessed.”
This morning’s readings are all about impatience. Waiting. We are in the same boat. As much as things change in the world around us, nothing really seems to change at all. Our world is still wondering what to do with refugees, it’s just that the nationality changes. We are still sending dollars to aid victims of natural disasters – this year a typhoon, last year an earthquake. As we remember the children in Sandy Hook Elementary School, victims of a horrendous shooting last year, another kid with a gun died in Colorado. Won’t things ever change? Won’t we ever get better at living with each other and the earth? Maybe that was John’s question. If you are the Messiah we’ve been waiting for, why are people still suffering? Why are people still without hope, without food, without security or care or compassion? OK, Jesus, you’re on. What’s the difference that a Messiah makes?
We did hear stories of Jesus curing lepers and paralytics, and of him raising a few people to life to return them to their families. But more than that we heard of Jesus reassuring ordinary people that God wanted to hear their prayers, that God wanted to give them what they needed. We heard that God welcomed those who longed for love and forgiveness more than God welcomed those who thought they deserved something because of their diligence. Jesus showed that God loves sinners and invites even the lowest of the low to sit at the table with him. The hungry, the poor, the lame and blind, and children were treated to special attention when Jesus was around; the ones who are usually brushed aside and made to be quiet in the corner.
We don’t have Jesus in person to take care of our wounds and lift our spirits, but God has given us each other. We are Jesus’ Body, and the Spirit Jesus left for us is what moves our community to see and hear each other’s burdens and pain, and to offer the arm to lean on, the shoulder to cry on, the hand to help. We live in such a strange time – one foot in the world of pain and sorrow and one foot in the world renewed and recreated by God in Jesus’ resurrection. We live in the in-between time of Jesus’ coming into the world and saving it, and Jesus’ coming again to finally make all those promises our reality. And so we rely on each other, on the Word which is present to us in our reading and preaching and praying, and the Word that is present to us at God’s table, the proof of our invitation into God’s life with us forever. “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Luther says that if we trust the words of Jesus, “This is my body, given for you,” we are ready to be received at God’s table and into God’s Kingdom.
On the prayer station behind you are instruments of healing. This morning you have an opportunity to pray for healing from pain and sorrow, for yourself, people you know, the world. Take a few minutes to think about what sorrow you would like to cease, and write down your prayers on the slips provided, so you can drop them in the jar on your way out. Or if you wish you can ask for someone to pray with you, as this is our healing prayer Sunday. (brief pause for people to think and write).
Unlike John the Baptizer, we know the end of the story of Jesus’ ministry. We see all the marvelous acts of healing and hope, and we see things get worse as he confronts the dominant powers of his day, who will end his life with brutal humiliation. And we see his triumphant rise to new life, destroying all the powers that can ever separate us from God’s life and love. We praise him because he lives and reigns today, here among us and in the life we live as we walk out the door. And still we can understand John’s worry and impatience, as we struggle with our own disappointments and griefs. And so we say with the prophet, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. Amen.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.