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Advent 3, December 12, 2010

Advent 3A RCL December 12, 2010

Isaiah 35: 1-10
Canticle 3, BCP p. 50
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

In last Sunday’s first lesson, Isaiah described God’s reign of peace. In today’s lesson, the prophet adds to our understanding of the ways in which God will restore the creation. First, the land is renewed. Waters break forth in the wilderness and streams flow in the desert. The desert rejoices and blossoms. What was barren bears fruit. What was dry becomes moist and full of growth.

As the land is made new, so the people are made whole. The eyes of the blind are opened, the deaf hear, the lame can now jump into the air, and those who were unable even to speak can now sing for joy. One theologian, writing about this passage, says, “The Bible is relentless in its conviction that nothing that is skewed or distorted and deathly need remain as it is. God’s power and God’s passion converge to make total newness possible.” (Texts for preaching, Year A, Westminster John Knox Press, 1995, p. 19).

In today’s gospel, John the Baptist is no longer out in the wilderness preaching repentance and baptizing. He is in prison because he has criticized Herod for his inappropriate relationship with his sister-in-law. John is apparently questioning whether he was right about Jesus. Is this man really the Messiah?

John sends some of his followers to question Jesus, “Are you the One, or should we wait for another? In responding to this, Jesus refers to the vision of Isaiah, and the portrayal of the Messiah from the scriptures: “The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” And Jesus goes on to say that he is indeed the Messiah and that John is the forerunner, the one who will prepare the way.

John the Baptist preached a harsh message of judgment and scholars tell us that it is probably accurate to assume that he was beginning to doubt Jesus—that, like many people of that time, he may have been looking for a Messiah who would rise up and overthrow the Roman Empire by military might.

A ministry of healing, forgiveness, and transformation does not measure up to that harsh standard. So, here in Advent, we see the beginning of the shadow of the cross. Jesus was not the kind of leader who operated on the principle that might makes right. And for that he died.

The epistle this morning was written toward the latter part of the first century after Christ. Jesus had died and risen several decades before. At first, the Church expected him to return very soon, but, as time went on, people began to wonder. We can really begin to wonder now, two thousand years later. We are on this journey and we can be like the kids in the car on a long trip. How long is it going to take, God? Are we there yet? We need to be patient as the farmer is patient in waiting for the crops to grow, but we also need to get out there and pull the weeds and put on the compost and water the plants and do all those other things which are needed to make the garden bloom.

What kind of a king are we looking for? Are you the one, or should we look for another? The classic distinction between authority and tyranny can help us here. Tyranny is rule by fear, oppression, force, power-over others. True authority—auctoritas in Latin, is authorship, creativity, what theologian John MacQuarrie calls letting-be. Deserts bloom, people really see, ears hear more clearly than ever before, lepers are cleansed, there are no outcasts, everyone is on the road to Zion together.

Our king is not going to stop building his shalom until everyone and everything is whole. Our God is not going to rest until the entire creation and everyone in it is made new. But how will we know him?

A poem by an unknown fifteenth century writer puts it this way:

Thou shalt know him when he comes
Not by any din of drums
Nor the vantage of his airs—
Nor by anything he wears—
Neither by his crown—
Or his gown—

For his presence known shall be
By the holy harmony
That his coming makes in thee.

Amen.

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