17 Dec Third Sunday in Advent
Deacon Blaine Barclay
The readings today are filled with anguish, longing, and joyful expectation. Just like our lives. In the middle of our struggles and suffering, we long for the fulfillment of the promise that only God can keep. In the midst of our experience of darkness, our weakness and incapacities, we cry out, How long O Lord? When will you fulfill your promise to your people, and liberate us from the bondage of our sin? How long O Lord?
Advent Joy is proportionate to and exceeds the darkness that we experience. How do our readings characterize the human condition? From Isaiah, weak hands, feeble knees, fearful hearts, blind, deaf, lame, without a voice. From the Psalm, oppressed, hungry, imprisoned, strangers in exile., orphans, widows sunk in their poverty and grief. From James, grumbling against one another, suffering. From the Gospel, echoing Isaiah, blind, lame, lepers, dead, and poor. How long, O Lord? Then and now, the world is an abyss of woundedness, suffering, struggle. The world as a whole, and for each of us, in our own little world. The all too familiar struggles of daily life. The loneliness of the shut in, the single, the divorced, the widow(er), the orphan. The struggles of parenting, unemployment, underemployment, inadequate housing. The way our fears keep us locked up in our own hearts. The confusion caused by an all pervasive culture of entertainment and consumerism, while we totter on the brink of climate breakdown. Our daily struggles and sense of estrangement are all too familiar to us.
And so is our longing, for justice and peace, for the promise of the Reign of God, for some kind of resolution to our own struggles, healing for our families, for the pain of the world, and all the victims of history, then and now.
But Advent is also a time of hope and joyful expectation. God is coming to rescue us, lift up your hearts. The future is even now already among us. God is breaking in, kicking down the doors of our hearts and lives. Calling us to act like an Advent people. Announcing the good news that is even now invading our hearts and our world. God is coming to save us. Beginning with the vulnerability of the little child of Bethlehem.
Our readings today are bursting with Hope and Joyful expectation. From Isaiah, the desert shall rejoice and blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing, weak hands strengthened, feeble knees made firm, be strong and do not fear, blind eyes opened, deaf ears unstopped, the lame leaping like deer, the voiceless singing for joy, and gladness, sorrow and sighing fleeing away. From our Psalm, justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, prisoners set free, lifting up the heavy burdened, watching over the stranger, upholding the orphan and the widow. From James, the call to be patient and to strengthen our hearts, taking the Prophets as our example of suffering and patience, as we ourselves live out the prophetic call of Advent waiting, of heightened joyful expectation.
And finally, from our gospel today. John the Baptist, about whom Jesus says, ‘A Prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a Prophet.’ John is in prison and suffering because of his prophetic word, because he refused to compromise and back down from Herod. John is struggling with despair, wondering if his mission of repentance and being a messianic forerunner has been a failure. Even in prison, John hears good news about the mission of Jesus, and even though he has already pointed him out as the Lamb of God, and actively encouraged some of his disciples to join the Jesus movement, perhaps in anticipation of his own execution, he is looking for reassurance and so he gets word out to Jesus. A question, which each of us must re-ask this advent season, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” To which Jesus answers, echoing both Isaiah and our Psalm. “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the deaf hear…and the poor have good news brought to them.” The Messianic promise, the hope for a world set right, where every tear will be wiped away, is not just a distant hope, pie in the sky by and by, it is happening in the here and now in the person and mission of Jesus Christ.
As Advent Christians we are called to be heralds of this in-breaking good news. God is coming to us, indeed, is even now acting in our midst, has already arrived, in the person and work of Jesus, and in our struggle to embody his saving mission.