3rd Sunday of Advent
December 11, 2016
Matthew 11: 2-11 You can click on this link to read the text in Oremus Bible Browser.
(Isaiah 35:1-10 and James 5: 7-10 and Psalm 146: 5-10)
I get it. I totally get it. John’s question make perfect sense to me. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?” John proclaimed that the Messiah was about to appear. The long-awaited Savior was coming right now. Get ready. In true prophet fashion, he had challenged authority, spoken truth to power, and tried to prepare the hearts of the people for the One who would come with power to save them like God did when he brought them out of slavery with a mighty hand. And now he was in prison, his ministry in shambles, his life in the balance. And Jesus hasn’t overthrown the Roman occupiers, brought the independence that Israel longed for, or even offered to save John from his sentence.
A poem by Warsan Shire goes like this:
“later that night
I held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
That’s pretty much how the world feels to me these days. Everywhere you turn people are being blown up, detained by dictators, dying of hunger, fleeing conflict and economic collapse. People we know are fighting cancer, chronic pain, addiction, family abuse. So I hear John’s question loud and clear. Jesus, can you hear us? We hurt everywhere. Can you help us?
The prophecies from Isaiah are sparkling with drama. In a dry land dependent on seasonal and often scarce rains, the images of the desert blooming, sand becoming a pool and water springing up are powerful promises. “He will come with vengeance…he will come and save you,” declares the prophet. A highway exclusively for God’s people, a pathway for the scattered to return with singing. What promises to treasure. But Jesus wants John to remember the other signs that the Kingdom of God is among you – the promises of extraordinary healing and the promise of God’s teaching to all people, not only the Chosen People. The Psalm we hear this morning makes the same promises of the day of the Lord’s appearing; the blind see, the lowly are lifted, the widow and orphan are sustained, the way of the wicked is frustrated.
When Connor Chaney gleefully informed me just before Christmas a few years ago that the Mayan Calendar ended in in 2012, and that it was possible that the end of the world was near, I think I surprised him with my answer. “Yay! I can hardly wait!” As his eyes widened, “I want to be here when Jesus comes again! I want to see all the wrongs righted, all the lowly lifted, everyone healed. I want to be part of it all!” But in the meantime, we are left with the admonition of both Isaiah and James: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, Be strong, do not fear! And. Be patient, therefore, beloved until the coming of the Lord…strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near!
And while we wait? Go and tell John what you see and hear, says Jesus to John’s disciples. What is the evidence we have that Jesus is really the Promised One? What occurs to me is that since Jesus left this earth, Jesus’ followers have been feeding, healing, and raising the dead, just as Jesus did when he was here on earth. Hospitals were created by religious communities; strangers were welcomed and the indigent fed by church communities. Christians were among the earliest abolitionists and the civil rights movement came out of the church. That work is still an important part of how God’s people act today. Even in our own city, people are fed and housed by organizations of the church, in partnership with civic and non-profits organizations. Jesus is still at work while we wait for that day of his coming again. And so, the promises of the prophets are for us too. Be strong, do not fear. Beloved, strengthen your hearts, for the day of the Lord is near.
What is your experience of Jesus’ presence among us today? How have you been healed, fed, welcomed, raised? What difference has it made in your life to be part of a community gathered by faith? What is the Good News you are longing to hear?
In this time of Advent we wait. In Spanish the word esparar means both to wait and to hope. So we gather our hope from our own experience of Jesus among us feeding, healing, raising the dead, and from the encouragement of the prophets, as we pray together, sing together, hold each other closely while we wait. Amen.