Sermon Advent 3 Year A
December 11, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer. Amen.
Last week, just like every year on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist made his Gospel appearance. You’ll recall he was crying out in the wilderness with a loud and confident voice, challenging the status quo, and confidently proclaiming a powerful Messiah still to come. With a prophet’s characteristic conviction and authority – and peculiarity – John promised that the Messiah would come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, and that he would save God’s people.
And yet, just one week later, John the Baptist shows up again in our Sunday lectionary. Only this time, he’s in prison and John’s tune has changed. His confidence has faded. His conviction mellowed. And in its place, serious questioning has taken root. So he asks Jesus through his messenger disciples, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we wait for another?” And Jesus, rather than giving a definitive “yes” or “no” to this question, turns the disciples from simply being listeners to being witnesses, called to tell what they have seen, heard, and experienced to those in their midst, and now to John the Baptist.
How quickly things change. John the Baptist, known for boldly paving a prophetic path for Christ, was suddenly unable to see or understand the vision of the Messiah. He was behind bars, uncertain, and seemed to have lost the clarity of his vision. So John, through his disciples, sought out Jesus, and Jesus offered him a new vision. Well, it wasn’t completely new – in some ways it was actually quite ancient – because what Jesus said sounded a lot like the prophet Isaiah’s vision we heard this morning. Part of what it means that God “will come and save you,” Isaiah wrote, is that “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” It’s a vision of a kingdom – not made up of definitive creedal statements, warring armies or taking-over territory – but a kingdom of healing and joy, inclusion and wholeness; a relational kingdom between God’s people, and between God and God’s people. And the signs of this kingdom can be found through Jesus who reaches out his hand in healing, in humility and love, and in solidarity with those on the margins - to those who were thought to be unclean or unworthy. This was definitely NOT what John the Baptist was looking for.
Of course, it’s easy for us to look, with hindsight – with 2000 years of history layer on top – and recognize the Messiah. And I think that’s largely why we’re here on Sunday mornings, to loosen the chains of idolatry, sin and doubt and connect with Christ, our true savior. But as Jesus’ disciples today, and as prophets – yes, we are prophets in our world right now – we have to continue to look for the in-breaking of God into our world and in our lives. And, like it or not, sometimes God’s presence can be subtle, unexpected or unrecognizable until much later. After all, at least not in my experience, God doesn’t break out into song and dance to get our attention.
Well, just two weeks ago, God got my attention and broke into my world, quite subtly and unexpectedly, with a simple touch. I was on the road to recovery from my heart pacemaker surgery, but was struggling. The doctors totally undersold the surgery and the recovery period – at least in my experience of it – and my expectation of returning to life as “normal” – my vision of “normal” - seemed illusive. I no longer knew what “normal” was anymore, and every time I tried to be “normal,” I failed and always ended up back in bed, exhausted and frustrated. And, living into the fact that the next chapter of my life now depends on a mechanical device has not been a picnic either. I had lost my bearings, confused, an alien in my own body. But on my first Sunday back in worship, as we were greeting one another afterwards, a parishioner came up to me, reached out his hand to me, and said, “Here, give me your left hand.” I trusted him, and gave him my hand. He took it, and held it up to his chest. And to my complete surprise, I felt the unmistakable lump of his pacemaker. In that moment, I knew that Jesus was reaching out his healing hand to me in humility and love, and in solidarity with my suffering and weakness. It was a moment of incarnation between the two of us – “incarnation” a fancy word for the bold in-breaking of God in human form – a moment when God moved through our weakness to heal and reassure us of Jesus’ presence in both of our lives.
We are messengers of God, prophets, who, like John and his disciples, discover and proclaim Jesus’ presence in unexpected places. In places of wilderness. In places of darkness. In places of exclusion and pain. And these encounters stretch us, just like it stretched John the Baptist 2000 years ago, beyond what we thought we knew about the Messiah, and into new spaces of knowing.
So, just like John, we ask ourselves during this Advent season, “What is it that we’re looking for?” “Who is it that we’re looking for?” And this time of reflection, and watching and waiting is a time of revelation, a time for new visions of God kingdom.
Honestly, in the strange days after my surgery I thought I was looking for my “normal” life again. That’s what I wanted and that’s what I was keeping my eyes open for. But by being here in church and connecting with another person’s heart, my eyes were opened. What I really needed was the touch of understanding from a flesh and blood person. And what I received was the healing hand of God.
This flesh and blood Messiah, born 2000 years ago, the one who reached out his hand to John the Baptist, the doubters, the marginalized, and those in pain, continues to do the same today. We are witnesses to Jesus’ hand of love. He says, “Here, give me your left hand.” Can we trust him and give him our hand as well? Jesus wants to assure us that he knows, he understands, that he meets us in unexpected places, in unexpected ways. Keep watch these remaining weeks of Advent. God is breaking into our lives with healing and love. Amen.