Third Sunday of Advent – morning
Sunday 15th December 2019
Advent 3 – morning
James 5. 7-10
Matthew 11. 2-11
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Today is Gaudete or rejoicing Sunday – that is why we light the Pink candle on our Advent Ring today…. nothing to do with Mary, who we remember especially next Sunday. Today’s readings tell of the transformation and new life that God brings and that we are all looking forward to.
As we all recover from the events of this week – whether we are filled with delight and expectation at an outstanding victory – or filled with despair and foreboding at what may be to come – or maybe a mixture of the two? Whatever our personal feelings, we could all do with a bit of Joy in our lives and some hopeful anticipation of the future.
A friend of mine was once searching for the perfect birthday card for her husband. She came across a promising one. On the outside it read, “Sweetheart, you’re the answer to my prayers.” Then she turned to the inside, which was inscribed like this;
“You’re not what I prayed for exactly, – but apparently you’re the answer.”
I am sure many of us would recognise that sentiment. Something or someone comes along and proves to be literally a Godsend – but they may be very different from that which we would have chosen for ourselves, given the power.
Well, for thousands of years, the Jewish people had been praying for a Messiah, a deliverer who would conquer their enemies and establish a kingdom of righteousness and might. They knew just what he would be like; powerful – a warrior and a king; someone who would bring them an age of prosperity and peace. Then along comes Jesus, a poor carpenter with a curious taste in friends. And suddenly some are saying he is the Messiah – but one who has come to set up a very different kind of kingdom. We can forgive even his close friends and family for asking, “You are the answer to our prayers? Really?”
John the Baptist had also been praying for and preparing for the Messiah his whole life. John’s idea of the Messiah was someone who would not only preach fire and brimstone, but would baptise with fire too!
But as John sits in prison – probably knowing that his chances of getting out alive are slim, he hears rumours of the way Jesus is talking and behaving. Far from preaching fire and brimstone, Jesus is speaking of God’s compassion and doing acts of mercy. No wonder that John seems confused, despite his acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah when he baptized him. So he sent some of his followers to ask Jesus if he was indeed the one.
Now, if we are honest, I would guess that most of us have a hard job seeing Jesus at work in other people. We tend to have our own fixed ideas. And so we judge some people worthy of our time, our money and respect – while others are worthy of hellfire and damnation. It is not easy to see Jesus in our enemy:– in our political opponent?
One day a small child was playing with some paper dolls. They were a bit special, because they were all Bible characters. Suddenly the child realised that one figure was missing. Jesus was lost. She went to her mother, and together they searched the house, but with no luck. Later that day, the little girl came to her mother triumphantly waving a picture in a magazine. She had found an image there that she identified with the Jesus of her paper dolls. Her mother gasped as she realise that the image her daughter had found was of a tall, bearded, homeless man, dressed in rags. Because of his long hair and beard, he did resemble the paper-doll Jesus. Out of the mouths…
But what if today, that little girl had come running with a picture of another bearded man? What if she had found a picture of Jeremy Corbyn (even the initials are the same!), and brought it to her mother, happy that she had found Jesus? That scenario is a bit mind-boggling and throws up some of Jesus’ own sayings – especially “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”(Matt. 5)
When John’s question was brought to Jesus, he might easily have said, “Yes – I am the one”. Even “I am the special one” like certain Football Managers who shall remain nameless!
But he doesn’t. Neither does he evade the question. As he often does, when confronted with a question, Jesus turns the question back on the questioner knowing that an answer – if it is to count, must always come from inside the questioner.
The possibility of salvation for Israel – and Palestine – and for ourselves today in this land, seems remote, because we look for the wrong kind of salvation. Perhaps we all want a child’s kind of Saviour – a parent-figure who will make things ‘all better’, without much effort on our part. Or perhaps we want a powerful, impressive more omnipotent kind of Saviour – like those Jews who wanted to throw out the Roman occupation.
But really – to hear our answer – we need to let the world’s ills be thrown back to us – just as Jesus threw the answer back to John. Look and see what a difference it can make in our own life to try the slow and patient way of change – little by little – taking personal responsibility and living out the Saviour’s way of life. This is slower and may be frustrating at times. It requires the patience our first reading today speaks of. The patience of the farmer who waits for the crop to grow. Now you may tell me, those of you who farm that your patience is being sorely tried – especially after this last year, with conditions first of drought and now of waterlogged fields – but when you are waiting for a crop, you can’t just haul up the plants to check how the roots are doing. The slow way requires that same patience from each of us. But James also tells us what we must do while we are waiting – strengthen our hearts and faith and not grumble against one another.
Jesus answered John the way God answers us – not as John expected. So it is with our prayers and expectations and hopes for the future…
Like so many children with their Christmas present lists, we bring our own personal agendas to Jesus and he gives us back the Sermon on the Mount.
Jesus answered John with a quote from the prophet Isaiah. It isn’t a straight yes or no.
He might have pointed to many Biblical prophecies. He might have performed some dazzling miracle, but instead Jesus sends the message – “Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them”. Miracles yes, but all involving restoration and compassion – not a flashy demonstration of power. We are reminded that the Christ, the Messiah, comes for the hurting, the helpless and the overlooked among society. Our celebration of all the good things at Christmas can so easily separate us from the true character of Jesus.
Perhaps, as John the Baptist sat in his prison cell, stripped of all the things that seem necessary for life, perhaps he discovered the one most important thing: hope. John glimpsed the hope that the Messiah had come to set up an eternal kingdom, a kingdom of justice and mercy, compassion and healing. A kingdom that was for all people. Truly the many and not just the few.
No, it wasn’t exactly what the people were praying for. It was so much more than that. During this Christmas season, may we all discover the same hope, and go forwards with healing in our hearts. Amen.